This was written in place of an actual reading for my brother's actual wedding ceremony... pretty much verbatim what I actually said with my actual mouth, in the actual church, on the actual day. Terrified that it wasn't quite appropriate, or what they were after, but in the end, thankfully, it went down well. Juj fo' yo'selfs:
When L and K asked me to do a reading, they suggested that, because I’m philosophy teacher, I should find some 'philosophical wisdom' on love and marriage. That seemed like a good idea; but it turned out to be a tall order.
Plato said: “At the touch of love everyone becomes a poet.” Which is nice, but obviously not quite true, because when it comes to dusty old philosophers they don’t seem to talk about love at all unless they’re logically dissecting it or sneering at it with all their existential angst – y’know, not really appropriate for a wedding speech.
The best I could find was Thomas Merton, who was a Trappist monk (and, yes, almost has my name). He said: "The question of love is one that cannot be evaded. Whether or not you claim to be interested in it, from the moment you are alive you are bound to be concerned with love, because love is not just something that happens to you: It is a certain special way of being alive. Love is, in fact, an intensification of life, a completeness, a fullness, a wholeness of life."
Erich Fromm, the psychologist and philosopher said: "Love is the only sane and satisfactory answer to the problem of human existence."
So far, so good. But then I turned to my old favorite, Nietzsche, and only found this: “A pair of powerful spectacles has sometimes sufficed to cure a person in love.” Mmn. Not quite what I was after, thanks Nietzsche.
However – I remembered reading in Alain de Botton’s Consolations of Philosophy about Nietzsche’s life… and specifically one of his excruciating chat-up lines, which seemed fitting on the subject of marriage:
“(Nietzsche’s) search for a wife was… sorrowful, the problem partly caused by (his) appearance – his extraordinarily large walrus moustache – and his shyness, which bred the gauche, stiff manner of a retired colonel. In the spring of 1876, on a trip to Geneva, Nietzsche fell in love with a twenty-three year old, green-eyed blonde, Mathilde Trampdach.”
He talked about Longfellow’s poem ‘Excelsior’ with her, went for a walk with her and offered to play the piano for her – and the next thing she knew he’d asked her to marry him, with these words – and here’s the good bit, this is what he said:
“’Do you not think that together each of us will be better and more free than either of us could be alone – and so excelsior?’ asked the playful colonel. ‘Will you dare to come with me… on all the paths of living and thinking?’ Mathilde didn’t dare.”
Old Nietzsche’s approach may have been all wrong, but I think the sentiment is really sweet. L and K have dared to go on “all the paths of living and thinking” together, and may well feel “better and more free” than either would alone.
But, for me, what’s really amazing is that they show that, sometimes, things can turn out right and you can find the right person and live happily – which for a cynical philosophy bod like myself is awe-inspiring – and a real, proper beacon of hope.