Will the bride and groom and the wedding party please be seated.
My name is Greg Swann and I will share with you an iron law of English discourse: If you want people to take you seriously, start with Shakespeare.
And I do want for you to take me seriously, for we are embarked today on a very serious business, to wed Marilee to Anthony and he to her, to bind them up in their own new family. To make an ‘us’ of them as the Gaius and the Gaea, as the Adamo and the Eva, as the beginning and the end of everything that is most heart-burstingly human in the uniquely-human life.
And it is we who are doing this job, we few here in this chapel and we many watching from home. We are here not as observers or witnesses or celebrants. We are here as participants, as artisans and craftsmen, as masons and carpenters and glaziers, as the hearty crew who will pitch in together to get this binding done. Where our grandparents might have assembled to erect a cabin or a barn for a newly-wed couple, we come together to effect those same ends by means that, though they might be less visible, are no less vitally important.
For we are here to build a home for this lovely, loving couple, a home that we intend to last forever – ‘even to the edge of doom.’
A home. Not the structure but the idea. For if this is a marriage of true minds, then where Marilee is is home to Anthony, and where he is is home to her. And where they are can be home, someday, to their children and to their chickens and to their estate – to the things they cause to be theirs by their loving embrace.
We are here to make an ‘us’ of them, and of all the words in English, the richest language in the rich intellectual history of human life, the two hardest for me to say are ‘we’ and ‘us’. For while a marriage of true minds creates a community of common interest, I am too much acquainted with false minds to trust too readily in words that seem to rob me of my independence. And if you’re wondering, by now, just how much time I can spend fretting over two-letter words, the answer is: A lifetime.
And it seems as if fretting about words is all I have done since first I made the acquaintance of our stalwart groom. Anthony read my book ‘Man Alive’ and he liked it well enough to ask me to speak at The 21 Convention in Austin in August of 2012. I fretted and fretted about that presentation, writing and rewriting it a dozen times. In the end, I chucked everything I had written and gave an extended vocabulary lesson instead.
Here’s the really funny part: That’s what I plan to do today, too. Why? Because all purposive human behavior is consciously chosen and every conscious choice is made in what I call Fathertongue – in ideas, in concepts, in words. Ideas are not forgotten exiles, abandoned in books, and they are not vain ciphers on a scorecard. Ideas are the fuel of our lives, the means by which we move – even when we are busily going nowhere, even when we move only in retreat. If we would build a sturdy home for these resplendent lovers, a permanent community of love, then we must understand that love fully, consciously, conceptually, in words strong enough to last a lifetime.
The ancient Greeks gave us four words for love, two of them almost forgotten, the other two almost ruined from misuse. Indulge me for a moment while I rehabilitate the ideas behind those words, translating them into a language we all can understand today.
The first of the four is philios, which we hear in English words like ‘philosophy’ and ‘xenophilia’. It means ‘affinity’, the idea of liking people, places, things, ideas, sports teams, performers, etc.
Next comes ‘agape’, which denotes a non-reciprocal caring, doing things for people or ideas or institutions ‘out of the goodness of your heart’ – that is to say because you want the world that way, rather than the way you found it, without regard to cost or profit. To call this ‘selfless’ is an error, by me. The first word in “I want it that way” is the one that matters.
Who can come to Las Vegas without rhapsodizing the Greek idea ‘eros’? But the word erotic has been so abused in English that all we can hear, by now, is a salacious, salivating titillation. What ‘eros’ meant to the Greeks was a romantic and sexual love in the context of an exclusive, committed relationship. Ludic love, from Latin, is more useful for understanding uncommitted trysts, playful love, what Bob Dylan called “careless love”.
But the Greeks gave us one more word for love, one you may never have heard before today: ‘storge’, the durable love of families, the love that endures through quarrels, the love that sits at the bedside of a comatose child, the love between lovers that persists even after sexual expressions of love are no longer possible.
A true marriage will encompass all four of these loves by turns, growing from liking to caring to romantic loving to a love that comes to be a thing of its own, a love you can never question or doubt, a love you can’t imagine trying to live without, a love that is the full and final home for that couple and for everything they love together. But where the frantic ardor of a brand new romantic love may wane over time, where it cools to form that durable love of families, it comes to be the central column from which everything in the home we are building today will be hung.
This idea of a durable love of families is ubiquitous – you’ve seen it everywhere, all your life – and yet it seems so alien to us, particularly as we are intellectuals in our frame of mind, individualists in our politics, egoists in our ethics. We envision people who are slaves to their bad relationships, but absent force, none of us is ever a slave. Every commitment you have ever made is instantly reversible. Every voluntary group you belong to easily dissolved. So just for a moment, forget how easy it is for you to renounce your past and think instead about how hard it would be for your dog to renounce you – or you your dog.
This August just passed, Anthony flew me to Orlando to be interviewed on video by him, Marilee and the aptly-named Socrates, who I wish could be here with us today. Just in passing, speaking about how almost every guy screws up almost every romantic relationship he is ever in, I said, “Your dog is not shopping.” If you want to understand the durable love of families perfectly – in Mothertongue, with no words needed – contemplate your home the way your dog sees it. He’s not going anywhere. He’s not looking for a trade-up family, and you would never even think to swap him out for a newer model.
Marilee is a breathtakingly beautiful woman, and for as long as he loves her, she will always be as beautiful to Anthony as she will be tonight, when these lovely clothes they are wearing are strewn on the floor at the end of the bed. Anthony is a rock of a man, a hero to his bones, expressing an unstressed courage and confidence in his every move, and Marilee will see him that way forever, for as long as she loves him. We wed them today, but we marry them forever, and the forever we bring to them – by our presence, by our resolve and by the strength and the solemnity of the words we use to commemorate this day – will be as timeless and as perfect as the photographs we will take in a little while.
But there’s really only so much we can do, isn’t there? Marriages fail every day. My take is that they fail because they were never marriages to begin with. Ludic love, perhaps, or romances without much caring, perhaps without even much affinity. “How could they end up hating each other?” we ask, without stopping to wonder, “Did they ever really even like each other?” It’s easy to hold your wife in contempt when you see yourself as being a thing apart from her. It’s easy to criticize your husband to the world when you’ve never been a ‘we’ with him in the way you were a ‘we’ with your dog from the day you brought him home. The durable love of families is highest on the hierarchy of loves because it is the only one that makes of the two of you an ‘us’, a ‘we’, a family, a home. When it’s we two and everyone and everything we love and may the rest of the world be damned if it stands against us – that is a marriage and everything else is just a date, tragically temporary and fundamentally futile.
And the despair of that too-common futility leads people to ask, “Why would anyone get married?” I make my own answer every morning, when I come back to bed to snuggle with my wife as she is waking and when I kiss her and nuzzle with her every night before I go to bed. But I answered that question more formally in ideas I have taped up on my bathroom mirror, where I will see them every day, where I will commit my self to live them every day:
Why would anyone get married?
To dance as one can never dance with anyone less known. To soar together as only two together can soar, each the other’s other wing. To know so well, to trust so completely that you can be your whole self for her, and she for you. To love so fully that your love-making seems to be its own private bubble in the plenum, and yet to love so enduringly that the two of you are always making love to each other, together or apart, awake or asleep – and someday with one of you dead and gone, and still the love will live on. To build those things – a home, a family, a life of meaning – that are best built by people committed to their love for each other. To be together is an accident of location. To be committed to each other and to the things you make together is a marriage. I don’t care who you hire to sanctify it, anyone or no one. But if you don’t hold it sacred, you won’t hold it for long.
Today ‘we’ – this temporary community of true minds – come together to build for Marilee and Anthony a community of permanence, a thing we pray will endure ‘even to the edge of doom.’ But as much as we might wish to take responsibility for that permanence, we are but the hearty building crew erecting this home, this family, this marriage. We should help to maintain it over the years, because as much as it is theirs, it is still partly our achievement, our accomplishment, our honor. But we can never do what only they can do: Trust in each other, value each other and love each other in every way they can think of, for every day from now on.
So, Anthony. So, Marilee. How will you make your marriage last forever? I speak with the authority of a lifetime of failed romances and one marriage that turned out to be a great and perfect success – eventually. How will you make your marriage last forever? In everything you think, in everything you say and in everything you do, you will make your marriage last forever by making your marriage last forever every day.
Anthony and Marilee, will you please join me to share your vows with each other.
[The bride and groom declare their vows.]
We make our commitments real by speaking them out loud, in unmistakable, undeniable words. To seal this bond, to make this marriage, to form this family, to build this home, I will give you seven words that mean everything to me in my own marriage: “Where you are is home to me.” If you say those words every time they come to mind, every time you mean them with everything you have within you, you will remind yourselves of the commitment you made here today. And if you find that you have gone for a while without saying them, you will know that your marriage requires that everyday maintenance that will keep your home from crumbling to rubble.
So, Anthony, please repeat after me, making your commitment real and undeniable in your words and with your wedding ring: “Marilee, my love, my life, my destiny, where you are is home to me.”
Marilee, please repeat after me, making your commitment real and undeniable in your words and with your wedding ring: “Anthony, my love, my life, my destiny, where you are is home to me.”
Ladies and gentlemen, it is my proud honor and my happy duty to present to you Mr. and Mrs. Anthony and Marilee Johnson. Please kiss and inspire us forevermore with your durable loving devotion.