Sunday, 14 October 2007

"Shell Union"

“Have you read the ceremony?” a friend shouted. “God it’s all about shells and sea water…it’s so completely gay!” she squawked.
Normally my friend’s ability to put her foot in it is something I enjoy immensely. Watching her vocally stumbling across a minefield of human sensitivities is a big reason I like to hang out with her, but in this case it was my minefield and my sensitivities.
“I designed that ceremony, you bitch,” came my spirited reply. “And by the way it’s what they wanted, it’s not your wedding.”
“Oh I’m sorry and will you be wearing pink to blend in with the shells,” she guffawed deciding that now the hole was dug she might as well wallow in it. Another one of her attributes I enjoy. “And who gets to drink the seawater at the end?” she chortled.
This was to be my first civil union ceremony as a celebrant but there were two problems. I am not a celebrant. I am only two papers into my four paper celebrant certificate. And I’m not registered. I tried to get out of it several times, but my friends were insistent and I love them both very much so I drew heavily on the two papers I had completed and designed what I thought was a short, moving, deeply symbolic little ceremony and called on a proper celebrant to do the legal bits.
And yes, it involved shells because the wedding was by a beach, and each guest would be asked to place one in a bowl of sea water collected from the beach earlier. You don’t need a degree in symbolism to guess what that was all about. I asked my two friends to spend some time before the wedding wandering along a beach, collecting the shells as they thought of their family and friends and I would collect the sea water.
When I turned up to the rehearsal the shells looked suspiciously clean, perhaps even bleached. I sniffed them carefully, and reached the conclusion that the shells had possibly spent some time between the beach and the ceremony on a slow boat to China where they were processed and returned to be sold in a gift shop somewhere. Hey, they were shells I reasoned and my friends are busy people.
There were tears at the rehearsal and I mentally noted that I may have to draw on my funeral paper where we are taught how to stop people crying. I’m not telling you because it’s a celebrant secret but I was convinced I would be forced to use the manoeuvre during the ceremony.
Later that afternoon I waded into the sea and carefully collected a San Pellegrino water bottle – though other kinds of bottle can be used - full of sea water and went back to get dressed.
Which is when the third problem happened. I was late. I broke the first celebrant’s rule which is always to arrive early and help calm your couple’s nerves. Be their rock, or shell, in this case. I thought of my disappointed celebrant tutor and hoped she never found out.
“We’ve got nine minutes!” he shouted, sweat trickling down his well groomed face.
“Oh gosh have we, sorry.” I mumbled, noticing a small rip in the side of my dress achieved as I hurried out of the car.
“Where’s the sea water?” he screamed, eyes piercing mine in a menacing manner.
With eight minutes to go there was no way I could make it back to get the lonely bottle of sea water sitting expectantly in my kitchen.
“Deep breaths, count to ten, you both look terrific, don’t worry about a thing,” I said confidently as I grabbed the empty glass bowl and ran in no particular direction as long as I looked like I was in charge.
Under the tap it went and I even sprinkled a bit of table salt in to make it almost authentic. And so it began.
It was beautiful, moving, inclusive and funny. Everything it was intended to be.
I was surprised to find that none of the same sex couples there had been to a civil union ceremony despite it becoming law in 2004. In fact last year there were only 397 civil unions registered compared to 21,500 marriages in the same year.
Civil unions, despite all the fuss from Brian Tamaki and the Catholics, seem to be a very new thing. Perhaps they just need some more shells.
I ended the night having rather enjoyed my role in it and having found the determination to finish that certificate and get registered. I’m thinking the business card will be pink with a shell on it.

Image by Anthony Ellison

No comments: