Thursday, March 24, 2011

Brides, Grooms and Swiss Lightning

Some of you who read my post "What did you say?" from March 5 have sent messages to me this week asking how things went this weekend. If you happened to miss that post, on Sunday I had the honor of translating a wedding sermon at our church in Steinenberg. I had concerns as to whether or not I would be able to do this without any problems. I certainly didn't want to risk ruining a very important day for someone.Then again, I am always my worst critic and often underestimate myself.

Luckily, the Pastor gave me a copy of the sermon two days beforehand. That gave me adequate time to look over it, look up any unknown German names, and find the direct quotes from the Bible that were listed. I went to church on Sunday fully prepared.

The bride is the daughter of one of my VHS English students and the groom is the man she met while working as an au pair in St. Louis, MO. In actuality, the two are already married. They were wed in September in the U.S. In Germany they were recently married Standesamtlich (in a civil service at the Justice of the Peace). Standesamt is the necessary, legally binding ceremony in Germany. A church wedding is optional and comes at some time, not always directly following, the civil service. So this was really their third wedding, serving the purpose of including the German family and friends in the celebration. The bride looked lovely in her sleeveless wedding gown and the groom looked dapper. The church was full.

After the Pastor welcomed everyone and said a few words, a friend of the bride sang. She had such a beautiful voice, so strong, clear, and full of emotion. It actually gave me goosebumps. Then it was time for the sermon. I stood up front, beside the Pastor. As decided shortly before the ceremony, we took it in turns. He would say one to three sentences and I would translate. This wasn't a difficult task because I had the text right in front of me. I had read it before. I knew what was coming. Except about three minutes into in, he suddenly started added things that weren't planned. He looked over and said, "Sorry, you'll just have to improvise." No problem. It somehow gave it a more personal feel. Later he began skipping sentences. I just followed.

Once, my translating quicker than my tongue, I stumbled over my words. I started the sentence again, this time more slowly and clearly. All in all I was doing fine. I wasn't even nervous after the first two minutes. I tried as often as possible to look around the church delivering the words directly to people's faces.

Then we came to one of the humorous lines. There were a few. In this one the Pastor made a sign with his hand and asked, "Do you know what this is? This is Swiss lightning." The next line was that the Swiss are considered by the Germans to be slow or to take things slowly, but Swiss lightning is a rocket compared to the pace at which the two of them came together. They first met at a Super Bowl party but never had any direct contact. Six weeks later they finally spoke to each other. Another eight weeks later... well, you get the point. I copied his hand motion for Swiss lightning, and then it happened. My first mistake. Instead of saying, "This is Swiss lightning" I said "This is German lightning. Uh, I mean Swiss...SWISS lightning."

The Pastor replied something to the effect of "Freudian slip? Perhaps the Americans think of we Germans as slow." Everyone started laughing. Then he continued and I went on translating whatever was said until we were through. The sermon was followed by a few songs, then the exchanging of rings and vows which our Pastor did in English. That we had practiced together beforehand. He was concerned about his pronunciation, which in my opinion, was fairly good. Yet, practicing this before the wedding served a bigger purpose. It prevented him from making a major mistake. He had written on his paper, "MP (the groom), do you take MF (the bride) to be your lawfully wedded husband? So we corrected it. Could you imagine the shock and laughter had he said husband instead of wife? Instead, it was I who faltered. I'm sure that good 'ol Swiss lightning will follow me around for a while.

I spoke with the groom's mother and father afterwards. They thanked me and said I did a wonderful job. They seemed like wonderful parents and I think MF will be loved and welcomed into the family regardless of cultural differences. I wish her much luck in her new life in America.

MF and MP are the flip side of Stefan and I. The bride is German. My husband German.The couple remaining in America. Stefan and I living in Germany. But we came together under similar circumstance. Those circumstances were not accidental. As their selected wedding verse (Proverbs 16, Verse 9) says "In his heart, a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps." I certainly never planned on marrying a foreigner (honestly, I wasn't even sure I ever wanted to marry), never planned on leaving the States (though I had planned to high-tail it out of P-town at my first chance),  never even planned on translating at a German-American wedding. Things just happen, and as my mother always says (yes, Stefan and know what I'm going to it comes....) everything happens for a reason. Whether or not we always understand the reason at the time is a different thing. Perhaps my translating at the wedding was merely to show me that I could do it, that my German has come a long way, or that I, too, have a purpose in this world. Who knows.  I was just happy to help.

My friend Mandy wrote to me. She said "So glad that you enjoyed yourself. So next time you get asked there won't be any hesitation or doubts on your part - cos you know that you are a star!"  Well, she's right about one thing--I won't hesistate to do this again--but I would never consider myself a star. I am "just a regular gal in a crazy world." The bride--she looked stunning and, as it should be, she was definitely the star of the day.


LKHarris-Kolp said...

Linda- What a lovely experience you had... thanks for sharing it with us.


*BTW-You are a star!

Linda H. said...

And thanks for reading it, Laurie.