I’ve been to a few weddings in my day. Long weddings and short weddings. Jewish weddings and Catholic weddings. Simple weddings and opulent ones. Of the two most unique weddings I’ve attended, one was secular, between two lawyers — it was full of cerebral legal metaphors and took place on the beautiful, grassy lawn of the Oakland Museum of California. The other, and I think the most unusual, was a Zen wedding, performed in a back yard in Ohio. The Roshi, or teacher, who officiated the wedding began by explaining that in Zen, there is no formal recognition of marriage. “Still,” said the robed man, “Thomas is such a great student and a great guy, I couldn’t say, ‘No.'” Looking back, there was something so very Zen about the whole scenario.
To mark the beginning of the Zen ceremony, the Roshi rang a bell, meant to rouse the attendees from the illusion of their everyday perception. Then he lead us through a lengthy series of chants. The syllables, which had no literal meaning, filled more than a full page of the little paper programs and were nearly impossible to follow. All around me, the crowd of mostly Caucasian non-Buddhists chanted away in earnest. The act was at once strange, humorous, touching, and enlightening, which I think is a wonderful blend. I knew then that I wanted my own wedding, if ever I had one, to be likewise unique, to be representative of my passions and philosophies, as well as those of my wife. Years later, I would finally have the chance to carry out this plan.
Kristin, a little choked up, delivers her vows. The Reverend Tim and I are awestruck. Photo: Nick Greenwell.
On June 15th, 2012, Kristin Marine and I were married atop Flagstaff Mountain in Boulder, Colorado. From the time we were engaged, our shared understanding of marriage has been that it is a vow between two people to spend a lifetime together — nothing more, nothing less. With that in mind, we decided that our wedding ceremony should be small and simple, informal, secular, in a natural setting, and that the officiant should be someone we know and who knows us. If I were to pick a word to describe my ideal wedding, it would be “honest.” In fact, our desire for a minimal wedding more than once had us ready to hang it all and head for the courthouse with a witness, the way my parents did nearly 40 years ago. But, after some discussion, we decided we wanted to do a little something after all. It just seemed right.
There were 16 people at our wedding, including Kristin and me. Of those, six were immediate family and eight were close friends. There was, as one might expect, some vague pressure to invite more people, to make the wedding something grander, but we resisted. In the end, we decided to exclude many people we love, not because we didn’t want them there, but because we didn’t want that kind of wedding.
All the guests of the Marine-Roth wedding. Photo: The Stone Mind.
For a venue, we picked the Sunrise Amphitheater atop Flagstaff Mountain, a little peak just north of the Flatirons that we used to frequent when we lived in Boulder. We made the decision quickly and without much hemming and hawing. As you follow the switchbacking, two-lane road up the minor mountain, you rise rapidly above the city and your view opens out onto the plains of the east. Along the way, you’ll likely pass a few crazed cyclists standing up on their pedals, tilting ambitiously towards the summit (on the way down, they coast as fast as the cars). There, too, hikers gambol along the winding trails, climbers dance up the towering sandstone boulders, and deer graze amongst the brittle grasses. Sunrise Amphitheater, at around 7,000 feet elevation, is a popular wedding venue. It features a classical amphitheater layout, with curving, stone bench seats in a three-quarters circle, all looking down on a central stage. Though the amphitheater is large enough to seat 150 people, we had everyone gather at the edge of the stage, to better hear Tim Erickson, the officiant, over the perpetual hiss of the high wind in the fragrant pines.
Like the venue, our choice of officiant required little deliberation. Tim is my sole friend from graduate school and a hell of a poet. He’s also a heart-on-sleeve romantic, the keeper of a bountiful sense of humor, and an English teacher unafraid to speak before an audience. When we asked him to lead our little ceremony, he agreed without hesitation and went about getting his official credentials from the Universal Life Church. He crafted an entirely custom, secular ceremony, including a beautiful “cento,” which is a poem composed of lines from other poems. His artful words, informed by many years of marriage, were wise and honest and touching, and he delivered them with a grace that belied the fact that ours was the first wedding he’d officiated.
Wedding cup of Kristin’s design. Stenciling these literally took days of effort. Spraying onto the curved, tapering surface was a logistical challenge, to say the least. Photo: The Stone Mind.
We approached our wedding the same way we approach life in general — we took what we liked from the old ways, left what we didn’t, and made up the rest. One of the traditions that we decided to stick with was the “best man” / “best woman” speeches, though we didn’t identify them as such. We simply each asked one of our friends to say something, if they wanted. Kristin’s friend Rachel donned a guitar and sang Willie Nelson’s “Everywhere I Go”, which left not a dry eye in the house. My friend of more than 20 years, Michael, pulled astutely from our many shared experiences to illustrate why Kristin would be a sure cure for my numerous, if not understandable, flaws.
Of all the things we did at our wedding, I think writing our own vows was among the most important. As I labored over mine, fearful of falling short in my role as a “wordsmith,” I came to realize that the old “in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer, for better or for worse” line is, in fact, a very good one. It is hard not to come back to that type of promise. Still, I wanted my vows to be a little more personal. At first glance, the task seemed so simple — “Just say what you mean!” I implored myself while hunched over the keyboard. But, of course, there’s more to it than that. It is only when we try to make what we mean concrete, put it down in words, that we realize how unclear our meaning really is. It was hard work, mentally and emotionally, to convert love, a promise of a lifetime, into a few short paragraphs. It was a worthwhile exercise though, and one that added something of immeasurable value to the ceremony, at least for me.
Poppin’ the Chandon. Photo: Nick Greenwell.
From what I have observed, a lot of people get married with the assumption that some great event is required. I read recently that the average cost of a wedding in the United States is now $25,000. I can only imagine that romantic movies, the burden of tradition, and the flourishing commercial wedding industry’s marketing engine have conspired to convince us that cost = value. (Which is, of course, not necessarily the case.) In the end, our wedding was, for us, as close to perfect as a wedding could be — a moment set aside for a dame and a fella to say some important things to each other before a small collection of loved ones. I cannot think of anything more there should be to a wedding.
The cake, courtesy of Boulder’s own Tee & Cakes, with a design inspired by Kristin’s paintings. Photo: The Stone Mind.
I am grateful and a little surprised that it all worked out as well as it did. I like to think it was a testament to our decision to do things our own way, and not be swayed too much by tradition or the expectations of others. But realistically I think it was good old-fashioned preparation, some help from our friends and family, and also luck. (For example, had the wedding been a week later, our venue would have likely been smoked out by raging wildfires.)
If, after reading this, even one couple is emboldened to create the wedding they want — rather than the wedding they think they should want or the wedding their family would prefer — I will consider this post a success. If the wedding you want is no wedding at all, more power to you. Same goes for those who genuinely want a big, sassy, opulent wedding. You cannot lose for following your heart. After all, what responsibility do we have in life but to make a world of the sort we want to live in. In every decision and every moment, we have a new chance to do just that.
It was a good day. Photo: Richard Roth.
Special thanks to Kristin Marine Roth, Herb and Kathy Marine, Aaron and Brock Marine, Richard and Susan Roth, Tim and Camille Erickson, Ted Chubb and Rachel Ryll, Nick Greenwell and Robin Maslowski, Michael Driskill and Rebecca Resnick Driskill, and to all the friends and family who weren’t present in body but who were there in our heart. We love you all!