This weekend, I was lucky enough to be the best man at my friend Chris’ wedding. It’s the first time I’ve actually been part of a wedding party. The scariest part, for me, was the toast at the rehearsal dinner. It wasn’t the presentation that had me worried, it was the content. I wasn’t sure if it should funny, embarrassing, sentimental, or what blend of the three.
Two or three weeks before the wedding, though, a good friend sent along an essay by Andre Dubus, “Charon’s Wharf”. It spoke to me immediately. So here’s what I read at the dinner.
Since we are all terminally ill, each breath and step one closer to the last, I must consider those sacraments which soothe our passage. I write on a Wednesday morning in December when snow covers the earth, the sky is gray, and only the evergreens seem alive. This morning I received a sacrament I still believe in: at seven-fifteen, the priest elevated the host, then the chalice, and spoke the words of the ritual, and the bread became flesh, the wine became blood, and minutes later, I placed on my tongue the taste of forgiveness and of love that affirmed, perhaps celebrated, my being alive, being mortal. This has nothing to do with immortality, with eternity; I love the earth too much to contemplate life apart from it, although I believe in that life. No, this has to do with mortality and the touch of the flesh, and my belief in the sacrament of the Eucharist is simple: without touch, God is a monologue, an idea, a philosophy; he must touch and be touched, the tongue on the flesh, and that touch is the result of the monologues, the ideas, the philosophies that lead to faith; but in the instant of touch, there is no place for thinking, for talking; the silent touch affirms that, and goes deeper: it affirms the mysteries of love and mortality.
So many of us fail: we divorce wives and husbands, we leave the roofs of our lovers, go once again into the lonely march, mustering our courage with work, friends, half-pleasures which are not whole because they are not shared. Yet still I believe in love’s possibility, in its presence on the earth; as I believe I can approach the altar on any given day which may the last and receive the touch that does not say: “There is no death”; but does say: “In this instant, I recognize, with you, that you must die.” And I believe I can do this in a ordinary kitchen with an ordinary woman and five eggs. The woman sets the table. She watches me beat the eggs. I scramble them in a saucepan, as my now-dead friend taught me; they stand deeper and cook softer, he said. I take our plates, spoon eggs on them, we sit and eat. She and I and the kitchen have become extraordinary: we are not simply eating; we are pausing in the march to perform an act together; we are in love; and the meal offered and received is a sacrament which says: I know you will die; I am sharing food with you; it is all I can do; it is everything. As husband and wife, we must have these sacraments.
Chris and Carolyn began with a sacrament, as some of you know. They ran together, as friends. Afterward, they would have a glass of scotch. This is the stuff of their relationship. It is not what they said, or what they pledged — it is the time they shared together. It’s a run through Prospect Park.
Once married, my hope for them is new sacraments. The muscle and sinew of their bond. They will grow together, and grow always closer together, that through these ordinary tasks — dinner, housekeeping, a jog through the park — they make their everyday lives more sacred. That they feel the strength of these sacraments every day. I love you both.