On the Occasion of My Daughter’s Wedding
by Robin Rage
“There is no remedy for love but to love more.”
— Henry David Thoreau
Did I ever tell y’all that I’m a minister? It’s true. When I was told that felons can’t become notary publics I decided I could do even better and got ordained. By what church? Why, the Universal Life Church of Modesto, California, of course, where anyone with a legal name and a mailing address can become a minister, free of charge, simply by submitting a form. I’ve performed numerous wedding ceremonies since then, including one I never expected to officiate — my daughter’s.
Yes, my eldest daughter, Lyssarian, and her soulmate Ram were married during an intimate gathering on breathtaking York Beach on a day last summer when it was supposed to rain but didn’t. The minister who was scheduled to perform the ritual (a friend of mine and fellow ULC man of the cloth) had a last-minute tragedy to attend to (his brother-in-law had accidentally — I don’t know how you’d do it on purpose — run himself over with his own truck and died). So I was honored with the privilege of performing the wedding ceremony of my first-born child.
Actually, perform is probably the wrong word. It felt more like I was part of the ceremony, because it was a life-changing event for me, too.
“Understanding someone’s suffering is the best gift you can give another person. Understanding is love’s other name. If you don’t understand, you can’t love.”
— Thich Nhat Hanh
My eldest daughter was born on the banks of Buffalo Bayou, in Houston, Texas. Having been adopted when I was a baby, I had no recollection whatsoever of anyone made of the same stuff as me, so Lyssarian was the first blood relative I’d ever seen, ever met. I was still a kid myself, just 21, when she was born. I’d never looked into eyes like mine, never seen a smile just like mine. I touched her tiny fingers and it was like … it was ineffable, there are no words.
Lyssarian grew up a genius in the midst of mental illness, alcoholism, crime and chaos. She survived her mother’s abusive insanity, my own alcoholic insanity, abandonment, depression and, finally, rejection by my adopted family — a sick-fuck cousin of mine and Lyssarian’s (supposedly Christian) godmother, who kicked her out of the family home in Maine when she was 18.
On top of all that, I gave my daughter absolutely ghastly examples of what relationships between adults who claimed to love each other could or should be. Horrid! And yet she made it, Lyssarian Joy, Lyssarian Rage, Lyssarian Invictus. A self-taught computer programmer and professional artist, she created the Holistic Recovery Project’s Prison Project and Prison Tarot Project, as well as its websites and social media. This Zen-Transcendentalist, feminist, riot-grrl activist not only survived, but thrived, and then did something I couldn’t have imagined her doing, considering everything she’d seen of romantic relationships: she decided to get hitched.
Not long after Lyssarian was born, during the brief time her mother and I were together, I was talking to a priest at the University of Houston’s Catholic Newman Center. “What’s the deal with marriage, Father?” I asked. “I mean, if two people already love each other, what do they need a piece of paper for?”
“It’s about commitment,” he said. “An outward declaration of an internal commitment.”
“And,” he added, “a legal contract.”
“Oh.” That explanation didn’t exactly sweeten the deal — which, given the tumult to come, I was relieved her mother and I never made.
Years later, Lyssarian, then 15 or 16, and I were walking through a vast, classical New England boneyard at the top of the big hill in Augusta. “What’s the deal with marriage, Dad?” she asked. “I mean, it’s just a piece of paper.”
My love life hadn’t improved since those days in Houston. I’d had a string of mismatched girlfriends, one bad marriage, and at the time I was in a rocky relationship with a very angry woman. I still had no idea what marriage was about, only that it didn’t seem like a good idea for me. So what could I tell her? I knew I couldn’t mumbo-jumbo this brilliant, already rather worldly child, so I took a shot in the dark.
“Well, I guess marriage is one of those things you’ll never understand until you find the one you want to marry. Then it will all make sense.”
I should have added: And maybe when you find that person, it will be the only thing that makes sense.
“Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be.”
— Robert Browning
On the day of the ceremony I was, of course, late. Very late. I was driving to York Beach with my companion, Bobbi Sunshine, and the powers of darkness kept playing hell with the GPS, sending us off in other directions. Thankfully it was, as I mentioned, an intimate affair — I kept only the bride, the groom and the photographer waiting, standing on the beach, for an hour.
I hadn’t seen Lyss since she’d arrived in Maine the previous day. I hadn’t seen her in about a year, actually. When Sunshine and I finally showed up at this gorgeous seaside spot (O.O.B. for the landed gentry) and I laid eyes on her at last, my thought was, That’s my girl! That’s my little girl, sitting in my lap in the pool outside of our apartment in Houston. Gosh…
She was wearing a classic white wedding dress with a long train, given to her by my bio-sister Lisa (who I’d finally met several years ago), and altered and updated by an excellent tailor in Raleigh, North Carolina, where Lyss had been living. The groom, my man Ram, was dressed in Renaissance attire. (“Can you hold onto my keys?” he asked me at the beach. “My pantaloons don’t have pockets.”) They were both just beautiful, beaming, aglow with pre-wedding excitement and no small measure of anxiety (addled, no doubt, by the late arrival of your humble narrator, the father/minister).
I don’t recall if I had a chance to even hug my daughter before we set off a short distance down some rocks to a magnificent ledge by the water. Sunshine handed Lyssarian a bouquet of red and white roses and, with everyone in position, I asked, “Ready?” and the ritual began.
I’d been up late the night before (had I slept?) writing pages and pages of things to say — anecdotes and references to kings and philosophers and anarchists — and I did use some of it, but the love between these two was so obvious, so tangible, that their relationship to one another became the theme of my secular sermon. Their love was the music to which I only had to add lyrics, and the song wrote itself, perfectly. I’ve never officiated a wedding more eloquently, or more succinctly, and yet I don’t remember exactly what I said. Something about their love and the wind, the rings and the ocean.
When I was a lad, I really believed the Beatles when they sang that love was all you needed. Love, right? When I reached my twenties, other things began to seem just as important as love, maybe even more important. Things like money. It was money that enabled people to reach their goals, to self-actualize. In Abraham Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs, it’s self-actualization that tops the pyramid; “love/belonging” is merely a middle level, even lower than “esteem.”
Turns out I had it right when I was younger, before the powers-that-be sold me on the religion of America, the Creed of Greed. Love is all you need. All else follows, and without love, everything is hollow.
Like I said, Lyssarian and Ram are, if you had to pin them down, Zen-Transcendentalists, with no specific deity. I’d never done a “godless” wedding ceremony before. What would I reference and what would I refrain from referencing?
Standing on that ledge between the sand and sea, with the wide eyes of this young couple upon me, I was graced with this wonderful insight. Wanna hear it? Here it is: Love is the god of the godless. Amen.
For additional wedding photos, click here.
Rage’s wedding song video is here.
And video from the wedding day is here.