I helped with the luminarias.
I first saw luminarias in New Mexico about 1977, perched in lines atop adobe walls. I was amazed something so simple could have such an effective look. Nothing but a brown paper bag with a scoop of sand in the bottom to weight it from blowing away. And then a lighted candle sitting in the sand. The bag shelters the candle flame. And the whole affair glows with a homey orange light. In mass, they weave an aura of comfort, quiet festivity, and reverence like the closing scene of “Fantasia”.
I was stamping in the dry frosty chill of the gathering dusk, waiting for the other Luminaria volunteers. It was 4:30pm on the final Saturday of the year.
I imagined being a little Mexican kid, just learning to talk, calling the bags Looney Marias.
I remembered an Alabama version using plastic milk jugs. An answer to paper bags, which would get soggy in the humid South. Somehow, those never caught on the same. Maybe you need adobe.
Finally, Toni and her husband pulled up. They had the bags, sand, and candles in back of their station wagon. The lunch bags were already opened out, the tops rolled down to help them stand more stiff.
I carried a little pan of sand, and a clutch of bags pinched between clustered fingertips. Set down a bag, sift in a modicum of sand. On to the next position. When I would run out, back for more supplies. Some of the sand was frozen into crunchy lumps. I stomped to pulverize it first.
Bag, sand, next. Other volunteers came along behind, inserted the candles, and lit them. Gradually, we wove a stream of light up the long north sidewalk to River Rock commons.
Soon it was fully dark. People were arriving. Overflow parking was the lot in Martinez Park. People drifted up the hill, admiring the luminarias. I stepped back, and the lights did look enchanting; warm orbs receding into the distance, a few shimmering with an internal flicker.
A small group of women came along, headed the other way. “Is that Kelly and Robin’s car over there?” they laughed, “We’re the committee to ‘decorate’ it!”
Now 6:00pm was fast approaching. I did a final check along the line, relighting any luminarias that had sputtered out in the evening breeze. The stubby votive candles a few inches long definitely gave a better light than the tealights, the three-quarter inch ones each in their own little metal cup.
In the coatroom I took off winter layers. The main room of the commons was dimly lit. Soft piano music drifted out. All the coatroom hooks and hangers were full, so I put item after item of mine up on the high shelf.
Just then Robin and Kelly came in. It took a moment to recognize them, made up with flowers in their hair. I had a moment’s anxiety, as if I’d gone to a theater performance and come in the stage door by mistake. But they just said, “Hi, Rick,” as they went by, and a couple of the cooks and caterers nodded. Of course, in keeping with Quaker tradition, if there is no distinction between Laity and Clergy, then surely none between the Audience and the Stars.
I took a seat in the commons and the music faded. Albert got up and gave an overview of the program. The reading of the Certificate. A period of Quaker silence from which we could speak, with no hurry. (This explanation for the benefit of those not familiar with Meeting for Worship.) Then the transition to the Reception.
The common room of River Rock Cohousing was a comfortable space. Large windows looked out to the central lawn area and across to other living units. The central sward was strewn with the evidence of children’s play, visible in porchlight silhouette. I thought it was appropriate people walked from door to door and on the paths outside, going about their normal lives, weaving these strands around this wedding happening here. Not set apart as we would be in a cathedral nave.
The room was rich with natural wood and native stone. I had never noticed before the great beams overhead. They were rough-hewn, with random mortise holes, obviously taking a new life here after decades supporting, perhaps, a local warehouse. It worked to very good effect.
Kelly and Robin sat together in the first tier of the circle, but not in higher chairs, nor on a dais. They were beautiful. The sometimes uncharitably used phrase “lipstick lesbians” came to mind; but why should not women celebrate their femininity, as I revel in the masculine?
I was kind of tickled that the first I even heard of this wedding was last Sunday, in the jumble of announcements after Meeting. The Sunday before Christmas, Christmas Eve caroling, anti war efforts, etc. Kelly stood up and said, “Robin and I are getting married next Saturday. We’ve been really busy, but we’ve hit the wall. We need help getting everything together.”
So I joined the luminarias team.
Over the past few decades, the issue of same gender marriage has rocked the US Congress, torn apart congregations, churches, and whole religions. It has been the subject of timely soul searching even among liberal Quakers.
When I’m asked the Quaker view, I explain, “There is no dogma. Each person is responsible for his or her own beliefs. Any communal stance must come from consensus.
There have been Meetings that could not arrive at consensus. Maybe there was just one person, who, though they liked the people in question, simply could not get their heart around the idea.
Sometimes, finally, that person would choose, as they say, to “stand aside”; hold to their feelings, but no longer block consensus.
Sometimes, it took till that person died.
So, I was tickled that it was a done deal. There had been no huge waves and upheavals, to where someone like myself, whose attendance can be sporadic when he’s out doing field work and such, didn’t even know it was in the works. It had been in the newsletter, which I’m sometimes slack on keeping up with. The item read:
= = = = =
Marriage of Robin Ashworth and Kelly Rand – After a month of seasoning, the Meeting approved the marriage under the care of Meeting. Let it be noted that we said “Yeehaw!”
= = = = =
I became aware that many others in Meeting were all in a tizzy about it. Because it was a wedding under our care. Not because it was two women!
So, all our lives had flowed together, and here we sat circled in the commons.
I suspected there had been some upheaval to work thorough in some people’s lives. Across from me were elderly couples I guessed were the in-laws. By and by, one of the gentlemen spoke. His message held a faint sardonic strain, of daughters “taking you places you never thought you’d go”.
At one point, it drifted through my mind that this was what I’d longed for, years ago, when I first became conscious of my attractions to other men. To find someone, someday, who would share with me the faith and practice I had found. I thought back and realized it had been nearly twenty years. Somewhere along the road that expectation had dropped away. Enough, it seemed now, to even find a guy I could talk to, and we could go out and do a few common interests. Too much to ask, I guess, that we would even live in the same town.
But I didn’t dwell on it. I thought of the men who had been in my life, and of all I had learned. And the story certainly is not yet done.
A woman spoke a beautiful poem, but over too soon; of love in the morning light, the winter’s chill, and such. I was pleased when, later, a man rose and repeated the same thing.
He almost muttered at first, “Here, I’ll sing it,” as though not sure what was appropriate in that setting. He had a nervous air as he rose and reached across the room for the sheet of words. He almost lurched – I wondered if he were developmentally disabled. But when he opened his mouth to intone the lines, his funny high speaking voice rolled forth deep and smooth. It was like watching a boat tossed on choppy seas suddenly swing rock steady and upright, and figures come forth to do a delicate pirouette on the firm and level deck. Talk about being in a channel!
As Albert had assured us, it was obvious when we were winding down. Someone went and brought the kids, who joined us for the last ten minutes. Then the newlyweds exchanged vows, and “set their hand” to the certificate that later we would all sign.
We rose and moved into the outer halls while volunteers transformed the main commons room to tables for food. On my turn to sign the certificate I happened to be close in line to the elderly gentleman. Sure enough, he had the same last name as one of the brides. And somehow I don’t think he was a brother.
In the serving line I was next to a woman from Meeting, Jill.
“Hi, Rick,” she said, “This is my partner, Becky.”
I had not known Jill well, so this was a small surprise, maybe like finding you share the same rare blood type, or middle name. But I really hit it off with Becky. She designs microprocessors, and had done marine electronics and robotics work, so we had lots to talk about. She had even lived a stretch of years on Orcas and San Juan Islands, and scuba dived at Port Townsend. Did you know there used to be a dump just off the old ferry dock, where you can now find bottles and things? My neck was wry the next day, from sitting with my head so long turned sideways swapping tales.
As the evening wore on, the newlyweds circulated among the guests. “I really liked your song,” said Robin, when they came to our table. I also had shared a tune during worship.
“A few summers ago, I was at a wedding up in Montana,” I told the story. “Big circle in a clearing in the woods. I didn’t know the couple well, but they seemed great. That song came to me, ‘Give Yourself to Love’. So I shared a few verses.
“Wouldn’t you know?” I finished, “Later when their real singer got up, she sang the same thing.”
They laughed. “Well, you don’t know us well either, so you got away with it here too.”
“I thought it fit better than something about cowboys.”
“Yeah, that’s for you guys!”
One of the elders of Meeting was sitting across the table with his wife. He said to the newlyweds, with dry wit, “You know, we’re having a wonderful time here. You should do this again soon.”
Kelly rolled her eyes. “As we were standing out there,” she said, “About to come in, Robin said to me, ‘At least we’ll only have to go through this once in our lives!'”
So, I guess this is what we’ve been working towards. When same-gender couples can go through the same wedding stress as anyone else. And where we in the same-gender boat may be acquainted a long time before we find out “that” about each other. Unlike the early decades of the 20th century, when we had to be a tight-knit secret society just to survive.
And where the elders can josh us.