It was sundown at the beach. There was a small group gathered at the public beach access, dressed in wedding attire. The bride wore flowers in her hair and carried a bouquet. The groom wore slacks and a nice shirt. Everyone was barefoot.
I sort of grew up barefoot. In fact, I grew up on this very beach. I remember working as a beach attendant/lifeguard one summer, after getting my heart broken by a young woman who shall remain nameless.
One morning I showed up before work, when this beach was empty, I waded into the cool water and I asked God to notice me. Pathetic, I know. But that’s all I wanted, was to be seen. A body can go a whole lifetime without feeling like anyone sees them.
I remember I was in chest-deep water when a seagull immediately landed beside me. He dunked himself in the Gulf, then shook his feathers violently so that it looked like he had a little mohawk. I laughed, then dunked myself beneath the saltwater, reemerged, just like my new friend.
And the seagull stayed put, floating alongside yours truly, just staring at me. At the time I didn’t know what this mini experience meant, but it seemed to mean something.
“Is everybody ready?” shouted the groom. “Let’s get started before the sun sets!”
So the wedding party plodded across the beach in our bare feet, moving into position.
“Why’re you carrying that big book?” a kid asked me on our walk. “Are you the one marrying them?”
“Yes,” I said.
“You a preacher?”
I almost choked on my own spittle. “No.”
The story goes: I was legally ordained about a decade ago because a friend asked me to do their wedding. So I sent a certified check to a strange mail-order ordination company that charged me $150 to be a man of the cloth. In return, they sent me a little wallet-sized card that read: “Certificate of ordination.” I also got a name tag that said “CLERGY.”
Keep in mind, this was the same prestigious organization that ordained both Bob Newhart and Conan O’Brian.
I forgot all about my ordination for a few years until I was asked to perform a funeral. Although being ordained has nothing to do with funerals. The young man who died was named Roger. He was a father of three, and he did not like organized religion because he had been raised by a preacher who was abusive.
One night, Roger took me to a sports bar where we watched a Braves game and, over an ice-cold Shiner Bock, Roger told me he was dying of pancreatic cancer. He asked me to do his funeral because he wanted a non-preacher to perform his service.
I refused. But he pleaded. So one afternoon, I stood before 120 funeral attendees and basically made an idiot of myself by crying while I recited the 23rd Psalm.
That was a long time ago
“Everyone ready?” said the groom. “We’re about to do this!”
The wedding party found a place near the water’s edge. There were lots of tourists on the beach, sipping from insulated cups. The tourists figured out what was happening and sort of congregated around us to listen to the ceremony. They edged inward to hear over the crashing breakers.
I took a deep breath.
“Dearly beloved…” I began.
The bride and groom exchanged vows. We did the ring ceremony. I sang “Amazing Grace.” Then, I presented the happy couple to their friends and family.
And that’s when the whole beach erupted in spontaneous applause. Strangers, eavesdroppers and wedding goers alike.
There was a family of redheads nearby, clapping wildly. An old Latino man kissed his wife on the lips and held her close. There were onlookers wearing sweat-laden workout attire, cheering. A 91-year-old man in a Hawaiian shirt even brought a gift.
And as the happy newlyweds rushed away, I walked toward the water’s edge to remember a heartbroken young man who once worked on this same beach. A kid who had no confidence in himself. It seems like my life happened in another era.
I was lost in my thoughts when a small seagull landed next to my bare feet. The gull stood beside me, the same way it did years ago.
And I think I get it now. Although I wish I would have realized back then that asking heaven to notice you is unnecessary. For everyone is seen. Every living thing on this earth is seen. People. Newlyweds. Seagulls. And even sparrows like you and me.