by Paul Schmelzer, 2/25/08 • While this kanom, a sticky-rice dessert with custard wrapped in banana leaf, was tasty, the more important part of this shot is the series of bands of string on my wrist. On Sunday, Mok and I were married in a traditional Thai ceremony, part two of a process that started with our October 2006 wedding in Wisconsin.
These threads, tied by elders in the family, represent their hopes for our protection and prosperity. In a very moving ritual, each community member came up, ran a taut piece of string up and down our forearms, ridding us of bad spirits and drawing in good ones, then tied it around the wrist as they told us their hopes for our life together. Some double- and triple-knotted theirs, others chose thick strands or tied the string especially tight, depending on their blessing for us: strength, many children, protection.
We have to keep the bands on for at least three days.
The ceremony, which I confess I don’t fully understand, was powerful in nearly all regards. Nine monks from Wat Dhammakaya led the crowd in Sanskrit and Thai prayers, before they were fed (monks can only eat before noon, and they must eat before non-monks at any gathering). Wreaths of string were placed on each of our heads, with a thread connecting Mok and I, as prayers were read. And we received water blessings: On kneelers, with our hands folded in a prayer position (over a vase of flowers), our friends and family each came and, using a gold-painted shell as a vessel, poured water (sometimes mixed with rose petals) on our hands as they told us their hopes for us: Long life, health, peace, “happy happy” (the English phrase many Thais seem to know), and many children. I was humbled by all this, and moved to be welcomed into the family and community. Needless to say, my pronunciation of “thank you” in Thai — Khorp Khun Krap — was perfected in the process.
My family was unable to make the trip, but we ran a slideshow of our American wedding and a video of my mom, an amazing vocalist, singing a Christian hymn in greeting to our Thai hosts. I’ve heard the song several dozens of times in my life, but on the other side of the world and missing my own spiritual family, it was especially meaningful. Called “Song of Ruth,” it goes: “Wherever you live, so shall I live. Your people will be my people, And your God will be my God too.”