Funny thing about making history: it never happens when you’re in your best dress. I guess it does for some people. The big people making big history every day. They know it’s coming. The rest of us don’t really. History sneaks up on you and there you are in the middle of someone’s important day and you are a part of it regardless of the fact that you have on flip flops.
History happens when you’ve overslept and didn’t wash your hair because you were about to be late, and when you’ve thrown on a pair of blue jeans in the scramble to get out the door. History never seems to happen when you’ve had time to put on make up. History happens when it is ready to happen.
Today, I was to meet two friends at the court house in Jackson County to perform their wedding. They had been married in Maine last year, one of the few places where same sex marriage was legal at the time, and they wanted to be certain their marriage was now valid in NC. So, they were at the Register of Deeds office bright and early, probably about the time I was realizing I’d hit the snooze button once too often. They learned that indeed, NC does now recognize their marriage. They were getting ready to call me to tell me I didn’t have to come and then something happened.
Some friends of theirs were also at the Register of Deeds office bright and early. They were there to get their marriage license, and they were the first same sex couple in this county to do so. I showed up in my old blue jeans, flip flops, and (thank goodness) my cleric. We took the marriage text I had printed up just in case for my friends and made some quick changes to include their names and the fact that they were renewing the vows they had previously made some years ago in a commitment ceremony.
And then there we were and it was happening. I performed their wedding in the library of the Register of Deeds. We stood in front of all the old books full of the things people must register and make record of for law and posterity. I could just barely smell them as I took a deep breath to speak the first words of the rite. Great tomes flaking apart in places, lettered in gold on the spine, all stood watch, breathing their silent witness upon us.
I came, just as I was, to their holy moment. And there, looking far less than professional, I lead them through the rite that made legally manifest what had already been true. I blessed them in the name of the Triune God. The first same sex marriage in our county. They made history. So did I.
They were joyous. I was scared. I wish that weren’t true. I wish I could say I was brave and bold like they were. I wish I could say I had no fears. I wish I could say that seeing the photographer from the Sylva Herald didn’t punch every anxiety button in my stomach all at once. I wish I had washed my hair or was dressed nicer or had put on make up because those things somehow make us feel more assured. But history doesn’t ask, “are you ready?”
I’m not scared about whether or not I did the right thing. I absolutely did. I’m not even really scared about how my congregation will react because they will likely react in the same loving way they typically do. But first things are scary. Being the first clergy person to perform a same sex marriage, even if it is only a small town, perhaps because it is a small town, is scary. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t right. And it certainly didn’t mean I wasn’t going to do it.
A friend told me that today I gave love and acceptance to people who had been shown rejection, marginalization and hatred. I had given them a kind of place in the community that they never thought possible. That is scary. And amazing, too. It seems to me that many of the really important things in this world are both scary and amazing at the same time.
History happens with a script that has pencil erasures and stumbled words. History happens when we bear witness to other people being courageous and strong and faithful. History happens, ready or not, and it happens when we are doing what we are called to do and, by accident, show up at the right place at the right time and scary or not we step out in faith.