In May of 2003 I had a rather delightful problem on my hands. Deborah and I had been “serious” for five years, and we had been looking forward to marriage for some time, but I hadn’t felt easy about proposing to her before her divorce was finalized. But now it was, and I could.
The problem? How could I make the proposal a surprise? I couldn’t ask her out to a nice restaurant or a romantic getaway spot—even if we hadn’t been together for half a decade, she’s as close to a mind reader as you’d want to meet when it comes to emotional matters, and would have known immediately what was up. But I didn’t want it to be a casual affair, either.
So I ambushed her in church.
At the time we were regularly attending St. Andrews Episcopal Church in Ben Lomond, California. I was a long-time Episcopalian, and Deborah, who is Jewish, had become what I jokingly referred to as a “flying buttress” of the church, supporting it from the outside. She would listen to—and sometimes read—the Old Testament lesson and join in the recital of the Psalm, and then read the Talmud the rest of the time. I sang in the choir.
So Deborah had no warning at all on the first of June, 2003 when, in the middle of the service, between the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist, after the announcements and blessings, I stepped out of the choir and asked her to join me at the front of the church. (The rector and parish secretary were delighted co-conspirators.) After a brief extemporaneous introduction, I delivered my proposal in the form of a sonnet, giving her my maternal grandmother’s wedding ring at the ultimate couplet:
We bless God for this grace: that He once said,
“It is not good for you to be alone;”
That, two-by-two, he weaves a tale whose threads
Are intertwined as close as bone to bone.
As Christ ‘twas this he chose to bless with His
First miracle, as water became wine;
‘Twas this He meant that evening we first kissed:
A first knot in our tapestry divine.
For then, as if in echo to that greater
Story that Abraham and Sarah heard;
Passing, much like them, through tears and laughter
We found a destiny we’d judged absurd.
And so, to tie the next knot in our life
I ask you, Deborah, will you be my wife?
Great poetry it is not, but it had the desired effect—although, being speechless, she could only nod at first. Unfortunately, we didn’t get a picture of my compliance when Deborah found her voice and asked “Aren’t you supposed to be kneeling?”
Almost as memorable were the reactions of the congregation, which were almost entirely gender-dependent. The women all said it was one of the most romantic things they’d ever seen, and the men, with a couple of exceptions, said they thought it was one of the bravest things they’d ever seen.
But I say that necessity makes heroes of us all—there was no way I was going to let her get away!