Dad used to say every article in Reader's Digest fit into one of three categories: "Oh, the wonder of it," "Oh, the horror of it," and just plain "Oh."
Last week I was skin diving off the beach of Florida's Caladesi Island State Park. Mary Lee and I had a wedding in Orlando on Memorial Day and we'd taken a couple days of vacation in the Clearwater Beach area. Mary Lee had heard that Caladesi Island was beautiful so we drove up to Honeymoon Island and took the ferry over. She was on the beach with her book and I was out in the water looking for sand dollars and shells. All of a sudden my mask got dark, but the darkness seemed to be inside the mask!
Being color blind, it took a moment to realize what the darkness was, but soon it was clear I'd gotten a nosebleed and my mask was filled with blood. I ripped the mask off and rinsed it out, but as soon as I put it on, it again began to fill with blood. Then it occurred to me that, for once in my life, the nosebleed thing was no big deal. After all, I was in water and the water quickly washed it all away.
For a while, I kept pulling the mask off to rinse it, but then I realized the nose bleed was less of a big deal than I'd thought: I didn't even need to take my mask off and rinse it since the purge valve would work as well with blood as it did with water. So then I just cleared the mask in the normal way, blowing air into the mask to displace the water and blood. (Now you know more than you ever wanted to know about nosebleeds while skin diving, right?)
Mary Lee got up from her perch on the sand and came out into the water to talk. She suggested I go over and offer to help two men who were looking for a pair of sunglasses one of them had dropped into the water. I swam over and offered my help. They told me the general area where they thought the sunglasses had fallen and I began to sweep the area under water. A couple times I came up to get oriented, once quite near one of the men. Seeing the blood, he asked me whether I was worried about sharks? I said, "No, not really," but when I went back under, I was worried about sharks.
There wasn't much I could do, though, other than to get out of the water and gross out the people on the beach as I stood there waiting for the bleeding to stop. Much better to be under water with the water washing it all away. While waiting I remembered my son, Taylor, had said that if a shark attacked you, you needed to punch it in its gills or eyes--not its mouth. My fist was ready.
It took about a half hour before the bleeding stopped. I was relieved not to have to worry about sharks anymore. The two men left without finding their glasses and I continued to sweep up and down the beach, picking up dead sand dollars and shells. About an hour after the men left, I found a pair of sunglasses, but Mary Lee said they were ugly so we threw them out on our way back to the ferry.
In the car on the way home we talked about how disastrous it would be if the nosebleed returned during the wedding, but we forgot to knock on wood...
The next night, the rehearsal and rehearsal dinner went by without a hitch. The wedding was 10:30 Memorial Day morning, and Mary Lee and I arrived at the church relieved that there had been no sign of a nosebleed in the three days since Caladesi Island. Then disaster struck.
Precisely at 10:30, as the groomsmen, the bridegroom, and I were opening the door at the front of the church to process to the chancel area, I felt a trickle way high up in my nose, and I knew I was in trouble. Quickly, I put my hand up and pinched the bridge of my nose to keep from dripping blood on the carpet. I told the men to go on in without me--that I'd join them as soon as I could--and I made a beeline for the small bathroom back behind the chancel area.
I knew I had about three minutes before the bride's mother would be looking to me for the cue to stand up as the bride made her grand entrance, so I worked feverishly to staunch the flow. Turning on the cold-water tap, I threw handfuls of water into my nose hoping it would help with the coagulation. Sadly, it didn't help. In Florida during the summer there are no cold-water faucets; the only water that's cold comes from the refrigerator or has had ice added. So, lacking cold water, I retreated to my second choice--stuffing a wad of toilet paper up my left nostril.
This was a distant second choice since I knew for most of the service the bride and groom would be standing two or three feet away, facing me and my nose. Then too, the photographer would be shooting pictures from the back of the sanctuary with a good telephoto, and the person running the video camera would be using his zoom. In short, they'd all be looking at or recording for posterity my nose's immense bulbosity, along with the plug of white toilet paper sticking out the bottom of my nostril. Sure, the rest of the congregation would only notice my pronounced nasal tone, and they'd simply assume I had a cold. But the poor groom and bride--this was their special day and here I was, their pastor, speaking like I was under water and trailing toilet paper and blood across the platform. Good thing they'd brought me down to Florida to lend a certain dignity to their wedding, huh?
Barely getting through the words of institution and declaration of consent, I was able to retreat to the bathroom once more as the bride's grandfather read a Scripture lesson and her sister, the maid of honor, played a solo on the harp. By now, the tiny bathroom looked like an abattoir with blood splattered on the floor, walls, toilet, sink, and even the molding. But all that could wait until later--the main thing was to try to get the bleeding stopped!
I figured I had about seven minutes before I had to be back on the platform, but with six minutes gone by, I was still gushing like a stuck pig. Then I did what I should have done long before--I prayed, asking the Lord to stop the bleeding.
It stopped, mostly, and I plugged the nose up again with another monster wad of toilet paper. Quickly I ran around the side of the chancel, slowing down to a dignified pace as I walked up the stairway and took my place in front of the groom and bride once more. It was time for the sermon.
Have you ever tried to speak without moving your nose? It's quite an exercise. Until that moment I'd never noticed how physically involved my nostrils are in the act of speaking. In fact, even the inside of the nose seemed to be an active participant. But as I said, I tried my best to limit these activities. It was my shortest wedding homily, ever.
Between the vows and ring ceremony, I felt the trickle working its way through the wad of toilet paper. Fearing I'd begin dripping on the bride's train, I began dabbing at the bottom of my nose with the kleenex the maid of honor had helpfully supplied. Sure enough, the kleenex came away bloody and I knew my time was short.
As the groom and bride gave and received one another's rings, I wondered whether there was anyone present who could come up and finish the ceremony for me? Mary Lee and I had talked about using our friend, Scott Clampitt, as my contingency plan, but I couldn't quite imagine asking Scott to get up out of the pew and take over with no prior experience or warning. So I stood there dabbing my nose as we went through the declaration of marriage, the kiss, a responsive reading of Scripture, another prayer, another hymn, the blessing, and the "I now have the honor of presenting to you, Mr. and Mrs. John Doe."
As soon as the bride and groom started down the aisle, I slipped out the back of the chancel area where, again, I worked on my nose until it stopped--this time for good. Then I spent about ten minutes cleaning the bathroom.
At the reception, several women took me aside and explained how to stop nosebleeds cold in their tracks. And if you think what I've written so far is indiscrete, you should thank me for not repeating their instructions here in this post. (If you'd like to know, please send me a private E-mail and I'll put you in touch with them.)
Over the years I've officiated at countless weddings. Without a doubt, this was the most painful for me, personally; but also for my dear wife who, being my perfect helpmate, was completely mortified in my behalf.
The groom and bride? They came to me and, with the greatest kindness, assured me that it was all no big deal, and that they were very grateful for my presence. They were so sweet about it that I almost believed them. But I'm holding off until they've watched the video on their first anniversary.
So what's your story?
PS: For a short piece describing the historical origins of most parts of the wedding ceremony, check this out. Hint: in your wedding liturgy, does the bride vow to "obey" her husband?