Cleveland in the wintertime can be a cruel, desolate town. The wind chill often drops temperatures below zero and gray slush mounds crowd the streets and seep onto the asphalt, creating black ice. The skies are barren of clouds, yet the sun’s rays don’t seem to warm you from a cold so biting, no matter how many layers you wear, that shaking the chill in your bones is near impossible. When you’re outside, if your nostrils don’t stick together, your breath hangs in the air waiting for heat to slowly dissipate the clouds from your lungs. You have no choice in where you grow up, and since Cleveland is the community where Julie and I were born and raised, we were destined to have our wedding there.
On December 30th 15 years ago, our friends and family from all over the country braved inclement weather to witness Julie and I exchange our wedding vows. St. Malachi’s in downtown Cleveland was still decorated with Christmas poinsettias and the lights were dimmed as guests entered the old, welcoming church. Although one of our guests was mugged on the way there and a couple of the tuxes didn’t match the rest of the groom’s party, the ceremony went off with any real hitches. By the time I saw Julie walking down the aisle with her father, nothing else mattered. After the moment her hand joined mine at the altar, I had a perpetual smile on my face for the remainder of the night. There was a brief thought in which I questioned whether I should be more nervous, but it was fleeting. I was too damn elated. Even though our courtship had been fast (we were engaged just four months after our first date) and some questioned whether we knew what we doing, my soul had been fulfilled the instant Julie and I kissed for the first time. Marrying her was the surest decision I’ve made in my life.
After the ceremony and the wedding photos we adjourned to nearby St. Mary’s Church for the reception. By the time Julie and I had arrived at the banquet hall, most of my cousins had begun drinking shots to commemorate our union. I may have had one. Our 200 guests enjoyed an excellent meal (of which I think I had two bites) while we went table to table to greet those whom had gathered in our honor. To save costs, a videographer wasn’t hired for the night. However, my sister-in-law, Karyn, walked around with her own video camera and recorded various comments from people. This worked out wonderfully even after she’d had a few too many and the footage started to resemble Woody Allen’s Husbands and Wives. By the end of the tape, Karyn began a conversation with someone and forgot to shut off the camera. There is about 10 minutes of her talking while you only see the floor. This may be one of my favorite moments of the recording.
We hired this dude, Rick O’Bannion, a local radio disc jockey who did weddings on the weekends, to spin music that night. I call him “dude” because Rick was a throwback to the ’80s music scene, with long hair, a bushy ‘stache, tinted glasses, tight jeans and weathered cowboy boots. He looked every bit as gravelly as his smoky radio voice. Beforehand we had laid out our ground rules: No chicken dance, no hokey pokey, no Kenny G and no Celine Dion. We provided Rick with the three songs that made up our wedding dance set. The first, “Book of Dreams” by Bruce Springsteen, was the love song I learned to strum on guitar in order to propose to Julie. The second was a ballad by acclaimed jazz singer Diane Schurr. Rounding out the selections was a lovely Los Lobos song from their 1990 album, The Neighborhood, “Be Still.”
“Be Still,” written by songwriters David Hidalgo and Louis Perez, isn’t a typical wedding dance number; if memory serves, most of us had some trouble moving in time to the 6/8 rhythm. Yet, it’s a song of hope. Like a parent who bids his or her child adieu as their car drives off to a new town, “Be Still” encourages the progression of life while carrying a touch of melancholy as it reflects on the past. Before our DJ began spinning requests and guests began dancing or pouring more drinks down their throats or laughing at the old stories of when Julie and I were kids, before one of my groomsmen spent the night with his face in a toilet, or one of my friends grabbed his brother by the throat, before the booze ran out or the big family pictures or my brother-in-law wearing Julie’s veil or my cousin and brother dragged me on my back across the grimy floor, it was important that not just Julie and I, but all of us, were anointed with these words:
Let the calm, calm blue waters through
Wash your soul, passing right through you
Like the smallest rose out of the hardest ground
Like a tiny hand reaching up for the sun
Let us pray that our hearts are one
The toughest love is the strongest one
Like a crippled man fights his bitter pain
On two tired legs that hope to walk once again
Stay gold and be still
As we grow, a river flows
Through our hearts
Finding peace wherever it may go
Let pure, pure blue waters through
Don’t let the wind take them away
From you, like the littlest star
Shines in the darkest night
Like a mother’s ache brings in a new life
Stay gold and be still
Pray that we can stay gold and be still
Outside St. Mary’s, unaccommodating weather made life miserable for anyone unfortunate enough to be stuck at a bus stop or driving the roads. Inside the church, the good spirits and warmth of love felt as two families merged create vivid memories that will last my lifetime. Still, none of those vivid memories would mean much if not for Julie, my wife, my best friend, my soulmate.
In 1993, “Be Still” was a blessing to the newlyweds, as we embarked on uncharted territory. Through the years, I have given this song to my friends and family as they have become new parents. And on this day, as I begin the next 15 years of being able to call myself Julie’s husband, I believe “Be Still” is the perfect melody to bring us into 2009. Each new year, each anniversary we begin anew, a fresh start to better ourselves and become better people. Here’s hoping we all can all stay gold and be still and that the calm blue waters wash our souls and that our hearts are one.