It’s astounding to me how much can change so quickly, and how much of that change is merely perception. But perception is pretty much everything to the human animal, to our everlasting joy and limitless misery. While perception might improve survivorship on the savanna, the subjective nature of how we perceive things can certainly create challenges in a more complex world.
I’ve had a major shift in perception over the last few days, as my eldest was just married. And not only did he get hitched, but I was given the incredible honour of being the one doing the hitching. Although I’m no minister, nor duly appointed representative of the state, I was requested to perform the ceremony, with said state representative there to allow the marriage to be entered into the Grand Book of Vital Statistics.
As an aside, her role was a classic example of absurd bureaucracy in action: legislation pretty much legally bonds a couple after 2 years of living together; you may not have sworn oaths but your legal affairs are pretty much the same as if you had. All that a formal marriage does is enter your names into the government’s Grand Book, so that if in the future you wanted to bond with another, you first have to go through the legal process of being removed from the Grand Book’s record of the original marriage so you can be re-entered again under a different one. Other legal obligations to each other exist whether or not you worry about Grand Books.
So you have this government representative at the wedding who’s only purpose is to ask if anyone knows if any legal reason why they shouldn’t be married, and to utter the words, “I declare you man and wife.” She also collects the signatures on the government’s paperwork. It’s all so silly, but if she hadn’t been there to do these things, in the state’s eyes the marriage would be null and void, even though the couple would still be treated as if they were legally married.
The couple wanted me to create my own text and ceremony, within which they would speak their vows to each other. I spent a lot of time on it, and there was some back and forth between us as we honed down what they really wanted I think my speech was pretty good, and it caused a lot of wet eyes. I’ve replicated it here for those who would like to use it or parts of it. Not all of it is my original writing; some I got off the web.
Me to the gathering: Welcome, everyone. We are gathered today for a celebration of love, commitment, friendship, and family. Tracy and Stuart thank you all so much for coming, and especially wish to thank Tammy and Dennis for sharing their lovely home with us as we celebrate Tracy and Stuart’s marriage.
I’ve been asked to marry the couple, which is among the greatest of honours I’ve ever received. And while I have somewhat of a reputation for irreverence, for not taking things seriously, I hold the occasion of marriage in the highest regard, as the greatest commitment we make to a set of ideals so lofty, so profound, that many of us might never achieve them, and not for want of trying.
You don’t need a ceremony to have a marriage, yet it is an important celebration in nearly every culture, religion, and society. There are thousands of important moments in our lives, but this one is regarded as so critical, we acknowledge its special status by involving those most dear to us.
Because not only are they pledging themselves to each other, they are committing to the finest of human ideals, such as commitment, love, truth, and fealty. And when they pledge these in front of witnesses, it makes them real somehow, makes them stronger. By doing so in this manner they are making themselves accountable to you.
Tracy Koskela and Stuart Poole have called you here because as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to join a couple and sustain them in their long journey together. They wish for your support now and throughout their lives, because they recognise it won’t always be easy. They’ll have trials and sorrows along with joys and rewards, and there will be times when they’ll wonder what in God’s name they were thinking. But the occasions of pain and grief always pass, and when they do, they’ll be stronger both as individuals and as a couple.
The goals of marriage are challenging, as they should be. Because it’s only by striving for the highest ideals that we discover what we are capable of, learn who we truly are. It’s not a journey taken lightly, nor in isolation. So they ask for your blessing today, and a solemn promise that you’ll be with them through whatever lies ahead, that you’ll help them keep the light burning ‘till the end of their days together.
Me to Tracy and Stuart: We are here because we wish this for you. We’re here to hope with you, to be proud of you, and to remind you that marriage is the experience of writing a story, one not yet complete. It’s not one moment, not even this moment. There are big ones like saying “I love you,” for the first time, moving in together, getting engaged, but marriage is mostly countless little ones that come between the grand moments. Falling asleep next to each another, making dinner together, binge-watching Game of Thrones, and getting a hug when you come home from work.
And when the hard moments appear in your story, we promise our support and love to you, to help you through the times when you might forget your love, when you might turn away from your vows, when you’re in need as individuals and as a couple. If and when you require us, those of us gathered here will be your allies.
You may have fallen in love by chance, but you’re here today because you’re making a choice. You are choosing each other, to the exclusion of anyone else. You’ve chosen to be with someone who enhances you, who makes you think, makes you smile, and makes every day brighter. You’re about to make promises that are absolute. You’ll vow to take care of each other, to stand up for one another, and find happiness in each other. In short: come what may, you’re vowing to be there.
Will you, Stuart, keep Tracy as your best friend, to laugh with her, go on adventures with her, support her through life’s tough moments, be proud of her, grow old with her, and find new reasons to love her every day?
Stuart: I will.
Will you, Tracy, keep Stuart as your best friend — to laugh with him, go on adventures with him, support him through life’s tough moments, be proud of him, grow old with him, and find new reasons to love him every day?
Tracy: I will.
Will you, Stuart and Tracy, be each other’s partners from this day forward? Will you strive to bring out the best in one another, share your happiest moments, and love each other unconditionally?
Tracy: I will.
Stuart: I will.
I understand you have vows to read to each other. Please proceed.
Reading of vows.
Tracy and Stuart:
May your marriage bring you all the exquisite excitements a marriage should bring.
May you need one another, but not out of weakness.
May you want one another, but not out of lack.
May you look for things to praise, often say, “I love you!” and take no notice of small failings.
May you have happiness, and may you find it making one another happy.
May you have love, and may you find it loving one another.
I now invite Gladys to step forward and make this ceremony legal according to the laws of British Columbia.
Gladys addresses the couple.
You are now husband and wife.
Anyway, I started this post talking about perception. I have a certain perception of what marriage means, which informed the screed I wrote. What surprised me was how that changed after the marriage was over. I did not expect that my relationship with my son would change, but it has, as it did for my wife. While we love the fact that there’s another member of our family to love and cherish – we already felt this way about her but that’s also changed, becoming that much stronger – what we didn’t expect was this feeling of loss. Because we both have a very profound sense of our son now having fully moved on from the family that raised him, to his own family. Although he has been on his own for a decade, he was still part of “our” family, albeit one removed from our physical environment.
But by pledging himself to this other, he has formalized his departure from our loving embrace to that of his mate, where he will now create his own family. He is fully and truly gone.
Nothing actually changed, other than a notation on the government’s Grand Book, and yet everything has, somehow. Stuart and Tracy (yes, she has the same name as his mom; don’t go there…) are part of our family, but are now also their own. The ceremony somehow made that real. It was never actually declared in so many words, but both his parents perceive it. And maybe that’s the one big thing that a formal wedding achieves; it breaks the children away into their own autonomous nest. It’s like a budding somehow, where a new organism is created by budding off from it’s source. Dating a woman, living with a woman is like a reaching out into the world, but marrying her is breaking away. And it stings a little, even though he’s been gone so long already.
And it’s another stage of independence for my wife Tracy and I, where bit-by-bit, our roles in the lives of the next generation are diminished. We played our part, we brought them into the world, raised them to be the best human beings they could be, and now they spin off into the future and we are left behind. It’s the way it should be, I just never though I would be so aware of it, perceive it so strongly.
That’s a bitter-sweet aspect of perception. Sadly, a much more difficult aspect also emerged this past weekend. Tracy and I raised foster kids years ago, and we accepted children with fairly significant emotional difficulties. We had one boy for a number of years, a wonderful person with a sharp mind and a very well developed sense of integrity. But he came from a very unfortunate background and had many emotional and behavioural difficulties. We loved him and did our very best with him, and against all odds he was able to complete high school, an achievement very few foster kids can claim.
When we moved to Victoria he had the option of moving with us or staying in the Fraser valley, and he chose the latter, moving in with a friend’s family. For the first couple of years we remained in contact, with him joining us for Christmas, but for a number of years now he has been notably absent.
But we tracked him down and he was invited to the wedding. I was curious to hear and see what his years had been like, and also not a little anxious, because some of his facebook posts hinted at some pretty significant difficulties. I was unprepared for what I saw: he looked like he had come back from a war zone. Not only did he look like a gangster, his eyes were alarming. He had always had difficulties managing his anger as a boy, and it seemed that had followed him into adulthood. I have no idea what his life had actually been like, but I suspect he had spent a great deal of time in physical confrontations with people. His eyes projected rage, in a way I never saw in him growing up. He looked like he could explode at any moment.
It was heartbreaking. He had so many strokes against him, but I had much hope for him, hope that our time with him could deflect him from the kind of path he was on. Again, I don’t know the specifics, but I suspect that he moved with a very rough crowd. I doubt very much he was involved in anything illegal, but he was obviously used to fighting and getting his back up at any hint of disrespect.
And that’s where trouble began. The kind of people in Stuart and Tracy’s circle are very sweet people, and about the furthest you can imagine from street toughs. And yet very quickly my foster son perceived them as looking down on him, as dissing him. The first day he thankfully made himself scarce because of this perception, but at the wedding reception he contrived to imagine that my daughter’s partner had purposefully insulted him, a man so kind and sensitive that this would be totally impossible. As the night went on this perception worsened, despite several people’s entreaties that everyone was happy, here to have a good time, and nobody was judging him or putting him down.
But our world was one he was no longer familiar with; I suspect his was one filled with angry, low functioning toughs, and from that place no doubt we seemed like a bunch of hoity-toity snobs who thought they were better than everyone else. Somehow, despite all the love and kindness surrounding him, all he could see was insult and rejection, and tried to start a fight.
Unfortunately, one of his kind was also attending the wedding, and this idiot jumped into the conflict and clocked him a good one, and then all hell broke loose and the cops were called. Fortunately, most people had gone home by then.
And while our Foster son’s behaviour was completely unacceptable, everyone was heartbroken that he simply couldn’t perceive all the good will around him. Even the next day his story about what had happened was completely at odds with the facts, and of course his perception is how people had turned against him, how he was betrayed and victimized.
The saddest thing is that he didn’t say this as a cheap way of avoiding responsibility, it’s how he actually perceived the situation. He saw insults and mocking and aggression where none was, and so despite what might actually be in the world, all he can see is violence, rejection and hate.
We all project our reality on the world, but many of us do so (not enough, I’ll give you that) by testing: put out something and wait and see what comes back. But in our foster son’s case, he is no longer testing at all; he has so totally decided what the world is, that he is no longer even listening. Lips move, and his mind creates disparagement. Enough truly miserable things have happened to him that he can’t even risk the possibility of anything good, anything positive. He projects his understanding, and it’s a brutal, tragic one.
I have no doubt that many in the world would see him as a “bad” person. But I’ve seen him as a young adolescent with great promise and huge obstacles laid by a deeply neglectful society. Study after study shows us how investment in children and families at risk dramatically improves long term outcomes for children, and actually saves a great deal of money. But British Columbians again and again have elected a corrupt, far-right government that perpetually cut taxes and starve social services, and kids like my foster son are left to whither on the vine. Our foster son was neglected far too long before he came into our home, and even after he was placed with us he experienced neglect in a lack of services available to him, especially mental health ones.
Our foster son is a good person, but one profoundly damaged by incapable bioparents and a broken, mean-spirited child welfare system. We did our very best and I have no doubt it made a difference, but his life seems to me on the precipice, one that could go either way. We did our best but we were confronting an ignorant and parsimonious society that again and again turned their backs on thousands of children to save a few bucks on taxes, children that will come back to haunt them. My foster son and so many like him were created by British Columbian voters over many decades, and don’t be surprised if their lack of mercy for those children comes back as a lack of mercy by those children for them. My foster son learned that the world doesn’t give a shit, that the world is cruel and uncaring. Sadly, in so many ways, he’s right.