My sister got married yesterday, to someone I would have chosen from a catalogue if she hadn’t chosen him herself. Paul is a terrific guy – solid, reliable, kind, funny and clearly wonderful for her. My once-in-a-lifetime privilege was to actually conduct the wedding ceremony pursuant to a statute on the Virginia books that allows lay people to petition the court for a license to marry people. Barbara did a fantastic job fleshing out most of the ceremony, but I had freedom to draft the homily. For her and to sound my barbaric yawp across the rooftops, this is what I wanted to say to anyone and everyone:
We’ve come to the point in the ceremony at which Paul and Barbara will offer their oath and vows to one another.
It takes courage to stand in front of everyone important to you and commit to another person. Paul and Barbara, I know you both well, and I don’t think you need reminding in front of your family and friends of the sanctity of what is happening today – you already understand the weight of what you’re committing to undertake. Instead, I would like to offer a few humble observations and hopes.
I am one of Barbara’s brothers. Growing up she was steeped in the importance of family. We knit a tight circle and used phrases like “I have broad shoulders” to indicate that we were willing to bear burdens for others in the family. We showed up to defend each other and participate in one another’s joys. We gave of ourselves and what we got in return was so much more. I’ve gotten to know Paul, and it’s clear that he also places the same value on family – on loving and supporting those important to him.
We’re here with two people who understand what it means to honor a commitment, who respect the value of family and who understand that together they can be so much more than they would be alone. We’re privileged to be here with two people who are in love for all the right reasons.
Paul and Barbara have found someone for whom they have not had to forget their heads, to listen to their hearts. They’ve dispensed with any cynical modern view of love and have found someone in whom they can trust and with whom they can build a future. They have realized that this one crucial thing in their lives can salve the hurts and wants that are inevitable in other things. Walt Whitman spoke to this through a work he titled “At a Window”:
Give me hunger,
O you gods that sit and give
The world its orders.
Give me hunger, pain and want,
Shut me out with shame and failure
From your doors of gold and fame,
Give me your shabbiest, weariest hunger!
But leave me a little love,
A voice to speak to me in the day end,
A hand to touch me in the dark room
Breaking the long loneliness.
In the dusk of day-shapes
Blurring the sunset,
One little wandering, western star
Thrust out from the changing shores of shadow.
Let me go to the window,
Watch there the day-shapes of dusk
And wait and know the coming
Of a little love.
Paul and Barbara, Whitman understood what you do, and today you are gaining that voice to speak to you in the day end, that hand to touch you in the dark room. You are here today to create a partnership, your own family. You’ve chosen each other for best friendship and love and comfort. They say that you don’t get to choose family, but this is the one exception, and it’s a big one at that. Today each of you is joining the person who will be your greatest supporter for the rest of your life.
Please do not ever forget that you married one another, for one another. Give of yourselves and trust that your spouse will do the same. If you choose it and are blessed with children, remember that children see and hear everything, and will learn to love others as they observe you to love one another. As you learned.
Paul and Barbara, may you remember the way you feel today. May you preserve the strength together that is greater than the sum of each of you separately. May you love one another without limitation or reserve, and may your home be a place of joy. May you inspire others with the tenderness you show to each other.
Your family and friends here today have all seen the way you are capable of loving one another, and wish you every blessing in this union over your long and happy lives.