I’m here to tell the tale of a New York wedding, but first let me reveal the “back story” behind this fabulous love affair.
For although I now find myself a poster child for love, it wasn’t always that way.
For years upon end I was love’s greatest skeptic. As I saw it, love was a fine pursuit for other less complicated beings than me, and feared that I was too complex to be included in this simplistic club called True Love.
My best friend, Annie Lalla, a self-pronounced “cartographer of love,” noticed my doubtful attitude and began questioning me, probing to explore my hidden beliefs. Why was it that I thought true, romantic love would not, could not, happen to me?
She handed me poems, essays and literature on the topic, including, “the Natural History of Love,” by Diane Ackerman, which shed some light on my darkened perspective and challenged my cynicism.
Instead of a closed book, love became an open query. Yet still, apprehension and doubt prevailed in my heart.
It was during a trip to Israel to visit an old friend, that everything finally changed. Observing my descriptions of life and my relationships, he said to me, “Jena, it seems to me that you have the belief that love equals limitations.”
I agreed, absolutely. He was right, I did think that.
“Jena,” he said looking deep in my eyes, “by it’s very definition, love is the lack of limitations.”
And in that moment, something snapped. Or better said, something cracked, wide open, within the profound depths of my being. I got it.
In an instant, all my fears about love caging me in like an exotic bird trapped in a zoo disappeared. And there I was-raw and quivering and open to love.
I returned to New York the following day, my heart unbarred, and within that week, I received a phone call from a guy named Michael. We had met the year before at a salsa party during the art festival Burning Man.
He asked me out dancing and I accepted, thinking little of it. I’d been on many dates and this seemed like all the others. That is, until dawn broke and we were, no, not wrapped in each other’s arms or in a horizontal tango, but rather wrapped in gripping conversation, a waltz of words that wove in and out of the topics that most excited us, the most titillating dance of the night.
Two days later, still feeling the effects of that monumental meeting, we had our second date. And in Annie’s words, “love abducted me like a stranger in a dark alley.”
We were in the middle of another long and rich conversation, sharing not only our dreams and triumphs, but very intentionally exposing the parts of ourselves we usually conceal from the world. In my heart I thought, “I want to show you my darkness now, for fear that if hidden you’ll reject me for it later, and by then it will hurt much, much more.”
He did the same, unveiling the parts one would conventionally keep under wraps in the early stages of dating. And to our amazement, it was during those moments of audacious vulnerability the unthinkable happened to both of us at once.
“I’m falling in love with you,” he said and I replied in kind.
Love, mighty love, marched into the chambers of our hearts, claimed its stake, and has since never left.
On that second date, I presumptuously asked Michael, then living in San Francisco, “When are you moving to New York?”
He replied, “Soon,” and within five weeks he’d packed up his life in Fog City and found an apartment in Brooklyn, not far from mine.
Over the next year, our relationship grew from a hearty seedling to a rooted, mature life form of its own-an arbor of ardor.
To my absolute shock and surprise, not only did love impose no limitations, it made me more free! More free to give my gifts to the world without shame and to simply be me. Love did not constrict me. Rather, love actually removed bars from the cage of my own creation!
And so the Irish proverb goes, “The only cure for love is marriage.”
A year after this divine love affair began, Michael proposed to me with exquisite romance, under the light of the setting sun on the Brooklyn Bridge.
Finding it “unfair” that I was the only one permitted to showcase my fiancé status upon my hand, he requested the reciprocal, what we came to refer to as a “man-gagement” ring, an apparent new trend.
Another year quickly passed and we found ourselves about to be married, in the midst of a hot and sweaty summer.
It was my fantasy that before being married, I would be taken by my soul sisters to a watery place, to be showered in feminine energy and ritually cleansed. So I arranged an outing for my friends & bridesmaids to spend a nourishing day in the country doing pre-nuptial cleansing. After some on-the-spot exploration, we found a perfect clearing on the shore of a tranquil lake and the ritual-of dousing and drenching me with feminine love-began.
I surrendered to the women, who now became priestesses, as they utilized their magic to awaken my senses.
First the sense of sight, with colorful offerings-a heart made of green and gold glass, jewelry of feathers and shell, an emerald blue scarf-each sparkling in the sun through my free flowing tears.
Next, the sense of sound, with the reading of sisterly love letters expressing their affection for me, and the impact I’ve had on their lives, accompanied by more tears, gushing now, none of us immune.
Then the sense of touch, where they disrobed me, and all twelve hands rubbed my body with exfoliant scrub, scrubbing away the old, polishing the new. Tears vanished, replaced with laughter and squeals.
They then submerged me in the lake. Sun-warmed water engulfed me as my priestesses watched from the shore. I became liquid, one with the lake-fluid, flowing, fresh, feminine.
After I emerged from my baptism, they toweled me off, lay me on a the ground, instructing me to close my eyes.
And then, the most exquisite thing occurred. A shower began, of rose petals in pink, purple, yellow, red, and white, landing on my naked skin, while beside me a hypnotic flute played. The scent of roses, the ultimate symbol of feminine beauty engulfed me. I lay there in a daze, entranced by the ritual they’d created to prepare me for the rite of passage that awaited the next day.
And that day soon broke, my wedding day. It was hard to believe it was finally upon me. After months of planning the perfect day began to unfurl. Like the waterfall that gushed boldly into the lake I’d been immersed in only the day before, the event flowed with intensity, and soon, to my absolute amazement, there I was, held by my father’s arm, walking down the aisle.
Time slowed to a crawl. As we advanced I looked left and I looked right, capturing the expressions on everyone’s faces, the glints in their eyes. By the time I reached the front, I had been propped up, strengthened and invigorated by their love and was ready to declare my own, to my beloved groom, Michael.
The somewhat unorthodox wedding was conducted by a trio of officiants, our two close friends, Bryan Franklin, Annie Lalla, and Michael’s mother, Patricia Ellsberg. In our self-created temple, the religion we chose to bind and seal our marriage was LOVE itself.
In the words of our priestess-MC Annie Lalla,”Love, what a tiny word we use for an idea so big and powerful it has altered the flow of history, produced epic art, bridged nations, ruined gods, started wars and created life itself. How can love’s vastness be conveyed in the confines of one syllable?
Of all the meanings of “LOVE,” there is one in particular I want to presence today: love as the experience of feeling acutely alive in the presence of another. Love, with the right partner, calls forth your greatness, invokes your genius and catalyses self-actualization. As much a chisel as a caress-it creates and shapes our very essence.
Jena and Michael are not the same people who first fell in love. They have been mutually transformed-everyone can see it. There’s an unmistakable softening that occurs when your heart finally decides to play the one game for which it was purpose-built. I’ve watched the myriad ways both Michael and Jena demand greatness in each other. They have no tolerance for any compromise when it comes to their dreams. This is what I admire most in them.”
As you might imagine, the room was filled with wide-eyed wonder. Ecstatic joy erupted when with tears in our eyes, our vows and rings were exchanged. Proudly and triumphantly, we were pronounced man and wife!
Behind us, doors opened onto a ivy-lined courtyard where the celebration continued with congratulatory embraces and libations. Like Michael and I, our guests, by our request, were all dressed in white, resulting in a feeling of union, as if every guest had been an officiant in the ritual that publicly fused our futures as one.
Dinner, speeches, dancing, salsa, belly dance and fire performances ensued, with our DJ-a shaman of music-infiltrating the air with his angelic beats.
Love, mysterious love, the centerpiece of our production, was thick in the air. Not only Michael and I, but several other guests reported feeling tipsy, even drunk from the intoxication of the love itself.
Looking back at the woman I once was, the woman who had resigned herself to the belief that love would pass her by, I’m reminded I was not alone on this epic journey. It was my allowing the counsel of my friends’ to school and sculpt me that allowed me to take the risk to belief in True Love.
I’m now making the same plea to you. NEVER doubt love. NEVER give up the quest for the one who makes your heart sing. Love, like the sea, may have days of calm and days of storm, but there’s no better place to be swimming than in that ocean. The one ocean that refuses no river.
By Jena la Flamme © 2010
With special thanks to the contribution of Annie Lalla, Love & Intimacy Coach, “Cartographer of Love.” www.annielalla.com