I may have attended the best wedding ever yesterday. Of course, I borrow "best wedding ever" from the online lingo of the now; people often write "best. day. ever." (for example) as they tweet and post and update. And, depending upon how the marriage goes, one's own wedding is usually thought to be the best. Or maybe the wedding of one's child.
Nonetheless, this wedding was more than splendid. It happened in Tacoma, Washington, where "same-sex" marriage is now legal. Rudy Henry and John McCluskey got married. There were about 200 people in attendance, and a friend was only half-joking when he said, "This may be the social event of the year in Tacoma."
Not that Rudy or John are local celebrities or ever sought the spotlight. It's just that a lot of people love them, and they've done a lot of good work over the years. John, for example, has been working to help young gay and lesbian persons for decades--to keep them safe, sheltered, counseled, and supported. I met John about 10 years ago when my wife and I hosted a fund-raiser for a campaign to secure rights for gay and lesbian people in Tacoma. The resulting law made harassing such persons or denying them housing illegal. John is a tall, elegant man, right (I almost wrote "straight") out of the 1950s: dapper, urbane, witty. Rudy is also a very funny, very kind, smart person, too. In Tacoma, both have been what used to be called "pillars of the community"; that's partly why so many local officials, business leaders, people who work in the not-for-profit sector, and academics were there.
But the thing is, Rudy and John have been together for 53 years. Completely compatible, totally devoted, and loving. All "relationships" should be so blessed and resilient. And it had to be a "relationship" for 53 years because society didn't want people like Rudy and John getting married. Go figure.
So there we were in a Methodist Church, with a pastor and the Mayor co-presiding.
Rudy has some health-problems, so he sat in his wheel-chair, with one arm bound to his chest. He was pushed down the aisle, then up a side-ramp and around to where we could see him. Then came John, escorted by a friend. Eventually John sat next to Rudy, and the ceremony was on. Both wore classic black tuxedos, flowers in the lapels.
When it came time for Rudy to say, "I do," he dead-panned it, putting in mind Jack Benny. A tilt of the head to the side, a slight raising of the eyes, the perfectly timed pause, the sigh, and then, "I do." We all cracked up--except from John, who just smiled. At one point during the ceremony, Rudy, like every person in the building, was overcome by the moment and wept a bit. John comforted him and kissed his head and held his hand. When it came time for the rings, John put one on Rudy's finer--and on his own , for Rudy doesn't have the dexterity just now.
Not incidentally, the opening song, played and sung by Steve Smith, was "Oh, Happy Day." The closing song, recorded, was "What a Lovely Way to Spend and Evening." There was to be another, final recording, but of course the equipment malfunctioned, so Steve jumped up, ran to the piano, and played & sang "We're Going to the Chapel, and We're Going to Get Married."
It's impossible to describe how much love and respect there was in that relatively small space on Tacoma Avenue, a cold rain thumping the concrete and asphalt outside.
And there was not a little grief, for one not only admires the dedication, dignity, and perseverance of Rudy and John (and others like them); one also grieves for the difficulties they have faced. And for the long wait. But it's good to remember that, for the most part, they weren't waiting. They were living their lives, together, for 53 years. Finally, sluggish society caught up with them.
When they came back down the aisle together, we all applauded, cheered, and wept. As is often the case with weeping, the reasons were multiple and complicated. We wept for their happiness. Some may have wept because Rudy and John, without trying to do so, show us how good people can be. We wept because of their 53-year-wait. We wept because Rudy is frail.
Most of the things that make society good, that--in fact--make it work, were present when Rudy and John got married. That the wedding took place shortly after the atrocity in Connecticut put this goodness in stark relief.
I am not among Rudy's and John's close friends. My wife knows them better than I do because she ahs worked with them. But I count myself privileged merely to be their acquaintances. So when it was my turn to say a few words to John, I said, "Congratulations, John. You're my hero. I love you." I hugged him, and he hugged me. "I love you," I said. "I love you," he said.
How blessed we all were to observe this wedding, and "observe" was one theme of the wedding, for Rudy and John, being Christians, invited a friend to read a favorite selection of theirs from the New Testament, specifically Luke, Chapter 17, verse 20:
Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, "The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, 'Look, here it is!' or 'There it is!' For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you."
Rudy and John got married. Best. Wedding. Ever.