Committed couples from the world over gather on Siesta Key Public Beach to renew their wedding vows.
Once upon a time in a land far away, my husband and I said "I do." We were thousands of miles from home, on a beautiful beach at sunset. A handful of locals, with sighs and smiles, witnessed our vows.
Recently, we said those words again, and this time, we were just minutes from home, on a beautiful beach at sunset. And 800 others, with sighs and smiles, professed their love, too.
Every Valentine’s Day for more than 25 years, committed couples from around the world have gathered on Siesta Beach to do the same. While many people have participated in the gathering for years, it was a first for us. The experience came gift-wrapped in wonderful surprises, including a personalized certificate and carnation.
At the pavilion, some dear friends greeted us with bright red heart-shaped helium balloons that read "I love you."
The congregation grew steadily, and we all chatted, sharing "how we met" stories and other heartwarming memories. The waves lapped gently on the shore, brisk Gulf breezes made our cheeks rosy and the setting sun bathed us in a warm glow. It was sheer romance, even before the ceremony began.
At 6 p.m., 400 couples recited these lines in unison: "I promise you, my love, to see the beauty that is uniquely yours, to trust you and rely on you...for today is the renaissance of our union. And from this day forward I will feel no rain, for you are my shelter. You have become my world and my life. The future is ours...always."
Officiate Judge Becky Titus, now retired, and her husband co-wrote those endearing statements.
"I wouldn’t miss this for anything," Titus said. "It’s very special to the people that come, and a very special event, personally, for my husband and me."
The event is a stark contrast to Titus’ courtroom work, which is not always pleasant, she said.
"In my job we see all of the dysfunctional marriages, the ones that fall apart," Titus said. "But this brings me back to reality. It’s wonderful to see the people that are committed to each other."
During the evening, prizes were awarded to the couple that had been married the longest (64 years) and the shortest (only an hour).
Couples wore everything from bathing suits to wedding gowns. One woman donned a veil with jeans. Another couple sported baseball caps embroidered with the words "bride" and "groom." Photographers captured couples under the archway with a beach backdrop.
Official words were exchanged: "In as much as you gentlemen and you ladies have this day consented together in holy wedlock, and have given and pledged your love to each other in the presence of this company, by the virtue of authority vested in me, I now pronounce you husband and wife."
Then, as the sun merged with the sea, 400 couples kissed. Four gentlemen in red-and-white-striped jackets from the Sarasota Chorus of the Keys sang "Let Me Call You Sweetheart."
As darkness descended, my husband and I made another commitment...to come back next year. What a loving way on a perfect day to say "I do," again.
If you go: "Say ‘I Do’ Again: A Renewal of Marriage Vows" is sponsored by the Sarasota County Community Services Business Center, Parks & Recreation Department. The event begins at 6 p.m. Feb. 14 at the Siesta Key Public Beach Pavilion, 948 Beach Rd., Siesta Key. Pre-register online at www.scgov.net/parks or call 941-861-PARK (7275). Cost is $5 per couple. Unregistered participants will not receive a customized certificate.