A few months ago my nephew Diego and his fiancée Monica asked me to officiate their wedding.
Now, I’ve never been married, and I’m certainly not religious, so on the face of it one could argue I’m grossly unqualified to do such a thing. But the exquisite irony of my apparent ineptitude on the subject, combined with the undeniable honor of being asked by the son of my only brother, made me accept the offer without hesitation.
First I went out and got ordained. Online. 60 bucks later I received my official legal ordination, complete with professional certificate and wedding kit. You may now refer to me as Reverend Francisco. Booyah. I revel in the subversive quality of that.
But this is my nephew, and joking aside, Diego and Monica merit the best I can bring. I knew I had to do this properly. The full Francisco treatment. Nothing less.
So, when it’s time to think seriously about relationships, I always reach for my standard-bearer in that arena, Peter Gabriel’s “Us” album. A staggering masterpiece, laden with emotionally provocative tracks. Come Talk To Me, Love To Be Loved, Washing Of The Water, Digging In The Dirt, and Secret World – I played those over and over, for the millionth time in my life. Especially Come Talk To Me (more about that on my Instagram).
Then I thought long and hard about the relationships I’ve had through the years. And the women that got all the way in to my soul. And shook me to my foundation. And the profound impact all of that had on me and my life.
Finally, I tried to distill all of that down to some thoughts that might serve Diego and Monica well. Many drafts later, I ended up with something I felt was worthy. Honestly, I think it’s one of the best pieces I’ve ever written, and one of the most personal.
I officiated the marriage of Diego and Monica on Friday, June 21st, 2019. Outdoors, on the shores of Gun Lake, on a perfect sunny afternoon. The day of the summer solstice. Perhaps a coincidence, but I tend to think it was preordained.
The full text of the remarks I wrote for and presented on that day appear below.
Hello everyone, my name is Francisco, and I’m Felipe’s brother and Diego’s uncle. A few months ago Monica and Diego asked me to host this little affair and hopefully to provide some words of wisdom along the way. To everyone here, I promise to do my best, and I’ll try to do justice to this incredibly special event that we are all participating in today. So, let’s get started.
Diego, I remember the day you were born. You see, you had the bad luck of being born after your sister Olivia. And Olivia, and I’m not exaggerating, was this unbelievably gorgeous baby. So when you were born, we all looked at you in comparison, and we all were like…oh my word… [face-palm]
But look at you now. You’re a grown man, and an incredibly handsome one. I mean, just look at you. And not only are you handsome on the outside, you’re also handsome on the inside. You see, I asked around about you, and everyone tells me what I already know from talking to you myself: you’re a good man, you’re a quality person, people count on you, and people trust you. It’s awesome to see a man like that standing here in front of me right now.
Monica, I remember the day I first met you, about 15 years ago, in the basement of the Greentree house. You were so nice, so friendly, so warm to me. Only later did I find out that you actually had a fairly difficult upbringing. Your formative years at home were kind of tough. You had every reason to wear that on your sleeve, to lash out, to have a chip on your shoulder. But you didn’t. You were just this hot, nice, friendly girl that always treated me and everyone right.
And look at you now. You’re a grown woman. And you’re so, so beautiful. Especially today, I mean, just look at you. You’re like this angel standing here in front me, blessing us all with your radiance and charm. You’re also a great person. You see, I asked around about you as well, and everyone says exactly that about you, that you’re caring, and friendly. And I’m so excited to have you as my new niece.
Now at this time, Monica and Diego would like everyone here to honor those loved ones who are not with us today. So please, let’s join one another, and let us all take a moment of silence. [brief silence]
In the spirit of life and love, Olivia, Diego’s sister, has written something to share with everyone here today. [Olivia reads poem]
Thank you Olivia.
Ruminations & Reflections
Monica and Diego, today you have agreed to come here, stand in front of all these people, your friends, your family, and exchange vows and become married. Which is a wonderful thing – a profoundly beautiful thing, actually.
But before you do that a few moments from now, I’d like to ask both of you to reach deep within yourselves, to the very bottom of your hearts and souls, and I’d like you to consider two questions: what does it mean to exchange vows? What does it mean to be married?
Well, I imagine most people would say, it’s about love. It’s about the love between the two of you. About the love you created so far, and about all the love you will continue to build and share for the rest of your lives.
Well, of course it is.
And in fact, we are here today precisely because of the deep love each of you has for the other. We are all here to celebrate your love. And you are both here to commit to that love, for the rest of your days on this earth.
But, getting married and exchanging vows is about much more than love. It’s about life. It’s about your lives – the two of you, together, as one, from this day forward.
Let me repeat that: this – what we are doing here today – is about life. Two lives, that from now on, bleed into one.
Now, one life does not mean one person. You are, and you always will be, two separate individuals, with two separate journeys and two sets of footprints on this earth.
But, while you are fundamentally distinct human beings, with different temperaments, different backgrounds and different personalities, today you are vowing to go forward together, as one unit. As one team.
In short, today you are vowing to live your otherwise separate lives as one life.
I can’t imagine a more wonderful, more exhilarating, and more reassuring concept than to stop being alone in this world, and to start being together, forever. If you go to any country, any culture, or any time in history, men and women have always joined together in this way, as you are doing here today. It’s a universal, timeless and undeniable impulse of life.
But as wonderful as this moment is – meaning, the exact moment a few minutes from now when both of you will exchange vows – it’s also not easy. It’s not easy to be together. It’s not guaranteed. And it’s certainly not foolproof.
It’s not easy because, as I mentioned earlier, you are still fundamentally distinct human beings. And as such, you won’t always see things the same way, you won’t always agree, you won’t always walk through each of your individual journeys on this earth at exactly the same pace.
But that’s OK.
In fact, that distinctness between the two of you is exactly what will make your journey through life all the more amazing. Being distinct individuals, and combining what you have and pooling what you bring, will actually make your life together fun, meaningful, and transcendent.
And to achieve that, I’d like to suggest that all you need are three ingredients.
That’s right, only three. Three important – and three breathtakingly amazing – ingredients, which are these: honesty, empathy, and grace.
So let’s talk a little about the first one.
Honesty, and I mean that in the fullest, broadest sense of the word, is the foundation of all successful relationships. Period. Full stop. And when it comes to honesty, there really is no wiggle room. So with that said, I encourage you to make honesty the basic building block of every aspect of your life together. Strive to make honesty the pillar on which everything else rests.
You see, honesty is not just about telling the truth. And it’s not just about what you say. It’s also about what you don’t say. Please remember this: honesty has two sides, it’s about commission and omission.
And just as important, honesty is also about what you do – and about what you don’t do. As they say, actions speak louder than words.
So please be true to one another. Say what you mean, say what you feel, say it completely and freely. Don’t hold back, and don’t try to game it. Please communicate and act with truth, and with sincerity.
And I’m telling you this not because I think honesty is this virtuous or divine concept that mandates reverence or dogmatic adherence. No, it’s much more basic than that: honesty is simply the key to remove barriers.
Remember: you are, in fact, two separate individuals. But if you’re totally honest with one another, if you are truly sincere and forthcoming in all of your thoughts and all of your actions, you’ll reach a level of openness, understanding, and trust that you otherwise won’t reach.
Basically, what I’m trying to tell you is this: honesty is the key to intimacy – intellectual, emotional, and physical intimacy. And with intimacy flowing between you, there is no limit – your life together ultimately will reach transcendence.
Let’s talk a little about the second ingredient, empathy.
Now, some people will tell you this second part is really about being selfless, and in many ways it is. You should always strive to be selfless in your relationship. Try to put one another’s well-being ahead of your own, think about their wishes before you embark on your own ambitions. So yes, absolutely, strive to be selfless in your interactions with one another.
But I bring up empathy today more prominently than selflessness, because if you think about it, empathy is actually the skill you’ll need to become selfless. In fact, empathy is your ticket to selflessness.
You see, empathy enables you to feel what the other person is feeling. It enables you to internalize, within your own self and within your own body, what is happening external to you. Empathy is the key to being considerate, to being thoughtful, and to being sensitive to one another.
So I’d like to ask you here today, and every day, to empathize with one another. As they say, try to walk in the other person’s shoes. But, I also encourage you to go way beyond that – take empathy to its extreme, to its limit, to its logical conclusion.
What I mean is, try to expand your imagination to see the world through the other person’s eyes. Literally, vividly – strive to see the world the exact way they see it. Try to see the colors, and also try to see the darkness, the same way they do.
Also, sensitize your nerves to feel experiences the way the other person experiences them. Try to feel the touch on their skin as if it were on your own body. Try to hear the sounds in their head the way they interpret them.
And most importantly, open up your mind to understand the other person’s thoughts, as well as the process, the background, the influences, and the challenges they faced to arrive at their thoughts. Meaning, consider what shaped their ideas. Strive to understand the backstory, even more clearly than the story.
Basically, what I’m trying to tell you about empathy is this: in marriage and in life, context matters.
Empathy is about taking pause to fully consider the context of one another. Not just where they are, but how they got there. Not just who they are, but what caused them to be.
In short, empathy is the key to understand the essence of one another, it’s the key to uncover the humanity deep down inside. And I encourage you to mine it, and explore it – but I’ll also ask you to be sensitive to it.
Because while the stuff that lies deep inside each of you is profoundly beautiful, it’s also desperately fragile. So please, I implore you, always try your best to handle one another with the utmost care.
The third and final ingredient is grace.
People often say, it’s not what happens to you in life, it’s how you deal with what happens to you.
This is absolutely true, and I totally agree with that. Life will throw many curveballs your way, and there will be days when you frustrate each other to no end. I assure you, it will happen – it may even happen fairly often.
Well, when that happens, let grace be your guide.
Grace. Even the very sound of the word seems to evoke what it means. Finesse. Elegance. Dignity. Generosity. Or as Kipling wrote, “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you” – that’s grace.
Grace is just such a beautiful word, but when you distill it down to its essence, it’s an even more beautiful concept, which really comes down to this: be kind. Be kind to one another.
Remember once again, you’re not the same person, and while you will share many experiences throughout your life together, you will each face your own adversities, you’ll each have your own opinions, and you’ll each have your own disappointments.
So when life throws you something you didn’t expect, be kind. Be generous. Be patient. Be understanding. Listen to one another. Hear the other person’s point of view, and be respectful.
And no matter what happens, please remember there’s no need to raise your voice. And if you doubt that, consider this simple lesson: volume destroys content. The moment you go loud will be the moment you lose the argument, no matter how factually correct you may be.
Grace is like a magical force. Try to keep it on your side – it will protect you. It will provide you with inner strength and confidence exactly when you need it most. It will promote serenity. And it will foster a wonderful environment as you walk through life together.
And, truth be told, grace will even exhilarate you. It feels good to be nice. And I’m sure you’ll soon discover, it feels especially good to be nice to one another.
So let’s put all of this together.
A foundation of honesty, the spirit of empathy, and the quiet confidence of grace is what will float both of you ever so gently above the tempting impulses of jealousy, fear and doubt.
Honesty, empathy and grace will also nourish the love between you. They will strengthen your bond. They will surround you in tenderness. And they will help you grow and experience and flourish together, as one life, as one team.
In fact, I’ve known both of you a very long time, and I can say without hesitation that since the day you met, the two of you have been a great team.
You’re actually the best kind of team, because you’re a team of equal partners. You’ve shown to be a 50-50 partnership, where neither of you has veto power over the other, nor do you want it, because I know for a fact that each of you cares profoundly for the other, and I know you’re absolutely committed to one another.
Everyone here knows this – you’ve always been committed – we’ve all seen it in each of you, so many times over the years.
So it’s such a pleasure to see you here today, together. Because what we are celebrating here is not the beginning of a marriage, but actually, a marriage already in progress.
Today is a reminder of how far you’ve come, and a symbol of the love and support you will continue to give to each other throughout the rest of your lives together, no matter what happens, good or bad.
And today marks the continuation of your already wonderful relationship – today is the official sealing of that bond. And today we celebrate the endless possibilities that lie ahead for both of you, as you go forward together. As one love. As one life.
Statement of Intent
OK, are you ready?
Now, before today you’ve been many things to one another – a classmate, a friend, a travel companion, and a fiancée. But you’re about to say words that will take you across a certain threshold, and after that, things will never be quite the same between you.
Because after you say these words – your vows – you will be saying to the world that this is my husband, and this is my wife.
Now, it’s easy to stand here and say these words, but it’s far more difficult to live them day to day. We all insist on permanence and continuity. But unfortunately, that’s impossible, because things change. Love, and life, changes. It has ups and downs, and it evolves.
So, what you promise here today needs to be renewed tomorrow, and every day after that. Your commitment needs to be active, not passive.
Therefore, having considered all of these things, let me ask you:
Diego: do you promise to do your very best each day to create a loving, healthy, and happy marriage with Monica?
Monica: do you promise to do your very best each day to create a loving, healthy, and happy marriage with Diego?
Exchange of Vows
In sight of friends and family, I hereby seal these two souls, binding them to symbolize their union of love, trust, and friendship.
Now, if I may ask, please look upon one another, and please say your vows together:
- “Mother. Lover. Father. Friend. Guide. Protector. Healer. I am yours and you are mine from this day until the end of my days.”
Exchange of Rings
Monica and Diego, please take each other’s hands.
And all of you here today, please take one another’s hands as well. Let’s all reach out to someone and acknowledge that love in all of it forms – whether it be romantic love, family love, or even love between friends – is a profoundly human impulse, and a gift to be cherished.
Now, Monica and Diego, please take a good, long look at each other’s hands:
- These are the hands of your best friend, that are holding yours on your wedding day.
- These are the hands that will work alongside yours, as you build your future together.
- These are the hands that even when aged and wrinkled, will still be reaching for yours.
So please, hold each other’s hands, hold them tight, cherish them today, and cherish them always.
Monica and Diego, I would now like you to exchange rings.
Diego, please place this ring on Monica’s finger and repeat after me:
- “I take you for now and for always, for always is always now.”
Monica, please place this ring on Diego’s finger and repeat after me:
- “I take you for now and for always, for always is always now.”
Farewell & Blessing
Monica and Diego: you know, no one can declare yourselves married but you. And a moment ago, you did exactly that.
You began your marriage here today by speaking your vows before your family and your friends. And in the days and years to come you will continue your marriage, standing by each other, and sharing in the highs and lows of life.
My hope for you as you embark on your married life together is the following:
- May you have many long years to delight in each other’s company, and to love and be loved by the friends and family who have come here today to support you.
- May you make a home together that is at once sheltering and welcoming.
- May you each do meaningful, productive work at home and in the world, learning from your failures and growing in your accomplishments.
- May life’s challenges be met together with courage and optimism, and may your days be filled with laughter, imagination, trust, friendship, and love.
And, on a personal note: I’d just like to say it’s going to be a joy and a pleasure to see your lives unfold. So many amazing things are in store for you, it’s going to be fascinating to watch it all happen as you go forward together.
And, many people will wish you luck. Well, I’m not going to do that – because I’m going to wish you way more than luck. I’m going to wish you everything.
Every drop of happiness and joy. Every success and every achievement. Everything good and exciting and intriguing and moving and stirring and fun and happy and great – I wish it all to you. All of it.
So, with that said, it is now my great honor and privilege to present both of you to everyone here today as husband and wife.
You may now seal your vows with a kiss. And on behalf of all of us, by all means, please do it!