Being a dean of admissions is a natural and obvious precursor to being a wedding celebrant, right? Sure. Absolutely. (My father-in-law, a retired Episcopal priest who went through copious schooling and training before officiating at hundreds of weddings, expresses a degree of skepticism about that point.) In any event, as of this weekend I have now officiated at multiple weddings of Michigan Law alum: two. One attendee, also a Michigan Law grad, assured me that the relevant categories for experience were zero, one, and many. Ergo, I have performed many weddings.
My inaugural effort was concededly not an overwhelming production. My preparation involved re-reading the application files of the two students getting married, and the entire matter was accomplished during a mid-morning work break. (My application review, however, allowed me to reveal to the two of them that they had both studied cello in high school, a subject which had not previously come up in conversation between them. So that felt helpful and significant. I feel confident that the shared loved of cello is a solid foundational rock in their marriage.) There were a grand total of seven people present, a count that includes me, the participants, and the photographer.
The second event, however, involved actually getting on a plane to Cedar Rapids—destination wedding!—and appearing before a seated audience that included two grandmothers, at least one of whom seemed quite capable of knocking me out if I did anything to deserve it, and countless Michigan Law alumni. (While I had originally intended to officiate at weddings only when two people I had admitted to law school were getting married, I decided to abandon the rule before it could be implemented; since the marrying couple had met at the wedding of two Michigan Law grads, and the brother and sister-in-law of the bride had met at Michigan Law, and approximately eight kajillion classmates of the bride would be in attendance, I concluded that the spirit of the standard was satisfied amply. But still, as soon as he gets back from the honeymoon, I will be speaking to the groom about the LSAT.) Preparing some remarks in advance seemed in order.
I spent most of last week feeling constant low-level guilt and anxiety about not having done anything to prepare, a feeling that subsided a bit when the bride emailed me an initial draft of the vows on Thursday night. We were all in this procrastination mode together!
Of course, nothing inspires like panic, which hit in earnest after the rehearsal dinner on Friday night. By mid-morning Saturday, the remarks were a go, having been vetted, long-distance, by a team of three non-attending lawyers. (I'm not kidding when I tell you that the bride's grandmother had me cowed. The woman is a Force.) The results—my effort at blending humor and heart while gently pandering to the many runners, lawyers, and Midwesterners in attendance—are below. Please note that while the phrase "nipple-chafing" did not make the final version, "farmer's blow" survived the censors. Enjoy.
Some of you may be wondering why a law school admissions dean—my day job—is officiating at a wedding. Some of you may be a bit . . . flabbergasted—aghast? —not having previously considered that job as a normal segue to the job of celebrant at one of life's major milestones. And since not a few among us today are lawyers, some of you may even be wondering about the legal legitimacy of this event. I know Alex's grandmother has expressed some skepticism.
My credentials are these: in a time-consuming ordeal—five minutes of time, to be precise—I carefully filled out a free online form at the website of the Universal Life Church and then went the extra mile by paying $5 to have a certificate mailed to me, proving that I had done so. And yes, I have the certificate available for inspection, an idea I got from an elevator I recently rode in.
So now I'm ordained. But because I am a lawyer, I also consulted with a constitutional law scholar about whether this is completely legit. And he said—yeah. Basically. But he took a lot longer to say it. Law professors!
In addition to my online ordination, my principal qualification for today's duty comes from the fact that I routinely deliver brief remarks to welcome entering classes to Michigan Law School. No one ever really listens to those remarks, distracted by thoughts of the excitement to come, much as no one is truly listening right now. But weddings and the first day of professional school are momentous occasions and it's incumbent upon someone to attempt some words correspondingly momentous. I'll do my best, and if I fail, just comfort yourselves that I have already declared that I have a lot of experience in being brief.
When I first met Alex, she was sassing me. She had come to Ann Arbor in March 2003 to visit the law school during an admitted students' weekend, and was incredulous that a run we had scheduled in a local park had been canceled, due to the special mix of ice and mud that is just one of the pleasing features of the Midwestern spring. She repeatedly urged me to reverse this decision to cancel—as a then-non-lawyer, she didn't really yet grasp the risk aversion all lawyers are trained to embody, and did not appreciate the full extent to which reconsidering a liability-avoiding decision was a total non-starter. But in those first few minutes of our relationship, I realized: Alex isn't the kind of person to be defeated by little obstacles like a steep incline coated in mud and ice.
Zach, you are a lucky man.
Now, I came to know and love Alex very well over the course of her three years in law school and beyond, and we have had countless interactions that had nothing whatsoever to do with running. But somehow, running and Alex are inextricably linked in my mind. Every day that I run, I think of Alex at least once—often when performing the "farmer's blow" maneuver that she taught me. And so my brief remarks—seriously, they're almost over already—are going to use running as an extended metaphor for marriage. Happily, Zach has a running background too. Grooms are not unimportant at a wedding.
Marriage is, without question, a marathon. It is not a sprint. You do not put your complete heart into marriage for a brief period with the goal of winning. And it is not a triathlon, either. You don't get to dally with other activities, as it were—it's just the one thing, running, footstep after footstep, over and over and over. There will be miles where you hit your groove, and you fly along. And there will be miles where you realize you have not correctly carbo-loaded, or perhaps you chose the wrong socks and are getting a blister. Perhaps you are experiencing chafing. Or you may face completely unanticipatable issues that stem not from any lack of care or physical imperfection on your part but an act of God, like a windy Iowa thunderstorm.
But whatever the hurdle, you have to keep going. That's what you're promising to do today. And because you will keep going, you will get to experience the great joy of doing something that is not easy, and doing it well. And the great joy of being so linked with one other person that your concerns and interests and happinesses and sorrows become intertwined—still separate people, of course, but each other's soulmate. That's the marriage equivalent of a personal record, but in marriage, you can have it over and over again, every day—it exists alongside the tough times and the wonderful ones, and it sustains you. And as in running, experience and effort make you get better and better at marriage.
Marriage is not a private training run, though. That's what your last two and a half years together have been—running together, without an audience. Figuring out if your partner reliably shows up to meet at the designated spot at the specified time—figuring out if your paces match—if you talk the right amount for each other's tastes.
All those things have worked out for you two, and so now you're at the starting line of the actual event. And as with a marathon, there are crowds of people around you, cheering you on, and investing in the life you are choosing to lead together. Marriage, like a marathon, is actually a public event. That's why you have to register for it, and why there are rules. You may not pull a Rosie Ruiz and hop on a crosstown subway.
People are counting on your endurance, but they will also be there to support you when you flag. Through the course of your marriage, you should call upon the collective wisdom and guidance of all of the many people who love you both, because they will want to keep you running. They will hold up signs and will yell out encouraging words at appropriate moments. They will hand you tiny Band-Aids and cups of Gatorade when necessary.
And everyone I've talked to here, the people who have come together today to celebrate with you, have perfect confidence that you will be a beautiful team, and we are excited to watch you continue growing together.
And now that I have run that metaphor into the ground, please join hands.