The waves are lapping against the sand, not much, just enough for a drowning. Not of me, of my voice. The two people in front of me crane their necks to hear my words. They need to repeat just two statements, but it has to be done right. There are two other people somewhere to the side of us.
It’s March 2020 and COVID-19 has struck.
I’m a marriage commissioner, appointed in 2014 by the provincial government, and considered an essential service. They’ve recommended we only do the two legal statements with the couple and their witnesses. I have the option to decline any officiant requests if my comfort level is at rock bottom, but it isn’t — yet — and Victoria’s been clear on the safety protocols to maintain. So I choose to carry on.
It’s meaningful and an honour to be an intimate part of a couple’s wedding day, to work with them to create their script and vows, and conduct a smooth ceremony, helping them relax. It’s not all rosy but despite the odd mother-of-the-groom demanding that I wait until the couple returns from the joyride in their truck and the rest of the guests have arrived in the shuttle buses, or an emotional bride upstairs in the cabin crying because it’s raining outside, dressed only in frilly panties and strapless bra with the requisite lacy garter snapped to her thigh, I love it.
But now COVID-19 is an unwanted guest at every wedding, and its presence ended the bliss and intimacy and connection I’ve enjoyed with my couples for the past six years. The distancing requires planning of every detail and step, greater voice projection and repetition, and despite my pre-ceremony email outlining the “bubble” requirements, people forget and want to shake hands or hug me, so I must do the “dodge-and-dart-dance” all the time. And the signing of the documents is like a Three Stooges routine: loud instructions from afar on where to sign (“No, no… the top X, the top X.”), lots of hand gestures, choreographing each person’s movements, even watching which pen has been used. I’d use a laser pointer, but some may not appreciate my sense of humour, and besides, I might accidentally point it in someone’s eye. And sadly for me, no picture now with the couple after the signing. It’s exhausting and deflating. Sometimes I wish I didn’t have the memories of what it used to be like before the world turned upside down.
Many couples cancelled their weddings or have chosen the ‘elopement’ option; optimists are postponing to 2021. Others are keeping the guest list small and want to do a full ceremony (I’m happy about this, as repeating just the legal statements was a sterile, business-like, choppy exercise). The ceremonies this summer have been held outside, rain or shine. What’s going to happen when the weather changes? Because I sense that this unwelcome guest won’t be leaving the building for a very long time.
P.S. This spot is the “love heart” at Kin Beach in Comox. I’ve officiated here several times.
Linda McLean is a marriage commissioner in B.C.
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