The Heroic Groom

In what seems like a previous life, I was a college professor of philosophy. Nothing made me happier than students who challenged my way of thinking: they forced me to examine critically my own ideas. It may then be ironic that as a wedding minister I’ve made a firm policy of not giving unsolicited personal advice. Suggestions for wedding ceremonies are part of my job as an officiant. People wanting to get married are quite capable of deciding for themselves on the wisdom of the move, including the risks. And when they call or email me, they’ve already thought it through. They don’t need me or anyone else to second guess their intention. One groom, I admit, had me wondering if I’d be wise to make my policy a bit less rigid.

Josiah called me from his home near Albuquerque, New Mexico to ask if I’d perform a proxy wedding. He’d met a woman online and, he said, after developing a relationship via phone calls and emails, they were ready to tie the knot. Their problem was that she was a Brazilian, lived in San Paulo, and New Mexico did not recognize proxy marriages. And no, they’d never met in person. Once they were married, Josiah told me, he would visit Luciana in Brazil, meet her family, and do whatever necessary to bring her back to New Mexico.

It sounded insane. I wondered if, as a minister and wedding officiant, I had a moral obligation to say that meeting Luciana and spending a little time with her before getting married might be wise. But surely others had suggested as much to the man. He’d committed to a course and was asking my help in implementing it. My job is to serve, not presume that I have some superior moral authority. So I swallowed hard, not knowing if the person on the other end of the line was a fool or man of incredible courage.

“Tell me when to expect you. I’ll find us a proxy bride to say ‘I do’ for Luciana,” I told him.

Not wanting to try your patience, dear reader, with details of the bureaucratic blundering that forced Josiah to make not one but two round trips from Albuquerque to Denver to secure the necessary paperwork from New Mexico, Colorado and Brazil for the marriage to have international sanction, let’s skip to the ceremony. On wedding day he arrived with a laptop so Luciana could watch the proceedings via Skype. To my dismay, she declined the opportunity. What might it mean, I wondered, if only the deed, not the doing, mattered to her. The proxy bride, a reluctantly compliant neighbor, looked dumbfounded. We shot each other worried glances.

Luciana’s apparent lack of interest in her own wedding ceremony had no impact on the groom. He relished the brief service, thanked me profusely and promised to email me a report after making his South American sojourn to meet his wife in the flesh. To sweeten his daylong drive home I gave him chocolate and said a prayer for the success of a marriage in which I felt spiritually invested.

Some months later, Josiah blessed me with a detailed account of his visit to San Paulo and Luciana. All had gone well. Luciana’s family had received him graciously. He and she found each other all they’d expected and hoped for. Owing to some additional requirements of the U.S. Department of Immigration, Josiah was unable to bring the bride to her intended new home until a later date. But Josiah’s risk was vindicated. Relief swept over me on the wings of joy.

More time passed without any word from Josiah, and worry set in. I wrote ask about his progress and got no response. My worst fears began to bubble in my brain. I sent a second email and Josiah answered. After missing his flight in Dallas, having to spend the night there and pay a change fee, he got to San Paulo December 6, 2012. Because the US State Department requires visa interviews to take place in Rio de Janeiro, he and Luciana had to make the eight-hour bus trip to that most dangerous of South American cities. Upon arrival they learned that, contrary to what they’d read on line, Josiah was not allowed to sit with his bride in the waiting room, much less witness her interview. Luciana satisfied the interviewer that she would be a law abiding, tax paying, God fearing citizen and not a terrorist bent on blowing up buildings – and her visa was granted. Instead of the advertised 5-6 days for its arrival, it was delayed owing to a dispute between the U.S. and Brazilian governments on delivery of visa/passports. Again Josiah had to pay to have flights changed.

They made it to Albuquerque but without Luciana’s cocker spaniel, who had to stay in Dallas because – get this — American Airlines doesn’t use planes between Dallas and Albuquerque large enough to carry the cocker’s kennel. So Josiah made the 24- hour round trip drive to retrieve the dog. Apart from being in debt from the expenses of the move, only a few of which are described here, they are happy. Luciana, who grew up and lived in a place where it never snows and leaves stay green year around, likes her new home, except for the weather, which she finds “harsh.”

For the privilege of having served her and her stalwart husband, even if only as a mere wedding officiant, I’ll be forever grateful.