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Searching for beauty in the dissonance

Tagged: speech

Haise Wedding Speech: We Rejoice That You Exist!

It’s been over seven months, but I’ve been meaning to post a few things from my wedding last summer. I’ll start by sharing my more formal remarks from the reception. This part of the speech begins just after the toast to the bridesmaids and ends just before Heather joined me for the thank yous.

In Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, the main character, Marlow, spends the majority of the novel sharing a story with his fellow passengers on the deck of a ship on the river Thames. He relates this story in such a vivid and compelling way… but at one point, he trails off, overwhelmed at the impossibility of truly sharing the inner depths of his experience with another person outside of himself.

“It seems to me I am trying to tell you a dream — making a vain attempt, because no relation of a dream can convey the dream-sensation, that… absurdity, surprise, and bewilderment in a tremor of struggling revolt, that motion of being captured by the incredible which is of the very essence of dreams. . . .”

He was silent for a while.

“. . . No, it is impossible; it is impossible to convey the life-sensation of any given epoch of one’s existence, — that which makes its truth, its meaning — its subtle and penetrating essence. It is impossible. We live, as we dream — alone. . . .”

“We live as we dream — alone.” Since I first encountered that line, it has never left me. Marlow said what I would have said, had it been possible for me to set my scattered thoughts in order. In those five words — we live as we dream — Marlow encapsulates that which is most profoundly agonizing about this life: our inability to share it totally with another.

Don’t we all long for unity in the depths of our hearts? Marlow was left to despair, because he thought it was impossible. And it may not be fully possible in this life… but there are some things in which we can find glimmers of that original unity which we all long to reclaim.

“The principal difference between someone dreaming and someone awake,” Pope Benedict said this past Christmas Eve, “is that the dreamer is in a world of his own. His ‘self’ is locked into this dreamworld that is his alone and does not connect him with others. To wake up means to leave that private world of one’s own and to enter the common reality.” It is “the truth that alone can unite all people.”

What is truth?

I strongly believe it is this: that “man… cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of self.” (Gaudium Et Spes 24) It is in giving ourselves that we can find ourselves, that we can tear down those walls and bridge the gap between us. It is through gift that we find unity, find common union, find communion.

And what is love, but the ultimate gift of self?

“Love is not merely a feeling,” says JPII. “It is an act of the will that consists of preferring [constantly] the good of others to the good of oneself.”

And while I’m quoting popes, Benedict XVI (then Cardinal Ratzinger) wrote:

If an individual is to accept himself, someone must say to him: ‘It is good that you exist’ – must say it, not with words, but with that act of the entire being that we call love.

* * *

You are all here tonight because Heather and I love you, and because you have loved us. You have celebrated with us, you have comforted us. You have shared in our burdens and our joy, in our great triumphs and in our epic fails. You’ve put up with us, and you’ve stood up for us. You’ve given us life. You’ve showed us patience and kindness, and forgiven us when we may have been impatient or unkind in return. You’ve been there to laugh with us. Some of you have grown up with us, some of you have been grown-ups to us, and you’ve all grown on us a great deal. You’ve helped to shape Heather and I into the people we are today. You are our friends, our family — our community. You have given us so much: You have taught us how to love.

I’ve been told that this is our “special day.” I suppose it is… but this isn’t a celebration of couplehood; it’s a celebration of family. Whether through blood or other bonds, thank you for being our family. Thank you for showing us love, for showing us how to love, for giving of yourselves and for sharing your lives with us.

It is good that you exist.

* * *

So… we live as we dream, longing for unity… but the truth, that is love, can set us free. What does any of this have to do with marriage?

To get back to quoting popes… John Paul II wrote that “in this entire world, there is not a more perfect, more complete image of God, unity and community, than marriage. There is no other human reality which corresponds more, humanly speaking, to that divine mystery…” to that ultimate unity of three persons in one.

Marriage, I firmly believe, is a tiiiiny foreshadowing of that ultimate unity, a tiny glimpse of what it could mean to not live as we dream, but to be united; a tiny taste of Heaven… I know Heather and I will have hard times ahead. I hear the four stages of marriage are honeymoon, disillusionment, misery, and then — if you’re lucky — joy. (Heather’s asked if we could skip the middle two.) A mentor of mine always says of marriage that we shouldn’t hang our hat on a hook that can’t bear the weight. Heather, I know that I will disappoint you at times, that I will fail to love you perfectly, as you deserve, but I pray that you will remain united with me in this thought: it is your love, Heather, that shows me ultimately what it is to be loved; it is your love that leads me to the love that satisfies, as we journey together towards ultimate communion.

In the words suggested by St. John Chrysostom for such a moment: Heather, I have taken you in my arms, and I love you, and I prefer you, Heather, to my life itself. For the present life is nothing, and my most ardent dream is to spend it with you in such a way that we may be assured of not being separated in the life reserved for us. . . . I place your love above all things, and nothing would be more bitter or painful to me than to be of a different mind than you.

* * *

This day has been a long time coming, but it’s always felt like another big event. I don’t have any understanding yet how big it actually is. Preparing the apartment, it was a bit unreal to think that it would be home in a matter of weeks. It felt more like going to Australia in 2008 — new and exciting, but ultimately a short-term adventure. Or, preparing for this day felt kind of like preparing for a big concert at Hart House, even for the proposal — in the aftermath of these big events, things return mostly to normal… but this, this is a new normal. Weddings itself are pretty new to us. Lisa summed it up as she was planning Heather’s bachelorette, and said, “I’m fully planning this party based on Google searches.”

So, we wouldn’t be here today without your love and support to bring us here. We rejoice that you exist!

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My Encomium For Brother Domenic

On November 14th, 2009, I was invited to give a speech at a tribute to Brother Domenic, principal of De La Salle College “Oaklands” from 1996 to 2009. I graduated from De La Salle in 2005.

In March of 2004, sitting in English class, Mr. Hunt told us that we were all schizophrenic. We were schizophrenic for “attending a school run by a man from another century,” and putting on our uniforms, and combating this “tidal wave of junk,” and then going out and living in it. “It’s one thing to be stuck in this hurricane,” he said, “but it’s even worse to be a schizo stuck in this hurricane!”

From Mr. Hunt, being a “man from another century” is a profound compliment of the highest order. I’ve been fortunate enough to know this man from another century for the past eight years of our century — and, unlike Alessia, only four years as a student, and the other four as an alumnus who hangs around the school a bit too much. Since graduating, I’ve attended — among other things — every Christmas and Founder’s Day mass that I could. Only a direct conflict would stop me; if my exams were in the afternoon, I’d be here in the morning.

One of the main benefits of being at the school assemblies has always been Brother Domenic’s speeches. I remember him stressing what it means to be a signum fidei at the opening assembly in 2001, when I was in Grade 9. I remember a speech railing against the phrase, “that’s nice,” as a focus on mediocrity. I remember him stressing that, at De La Salle, we are not taught to be great, but to be good — not in terms of being mediocre, but in terms of being centred on Christ. The most memorable of all, however, were the words of wisdom Brother offered us during a time of great mourning, at Ian Lawson Van Toch’s Mass of the Resurrection. Brother Domenic said,

The way we measure success as human beings is terribly flawed. I am increasingly of the view personally that we have it terribly wrong. It is not the length of days or the accomplishments or the conquests, or health or the career, which makes us most human and therefore like God in whose image we are created. It is our capacity to love and be loved by others.

Success is our capacity to love and be loved by others.

And love? The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium Et Spes (“Joy and Hope”), explains love in the following way:

(24) God, Who has fatherly concern for everyone, has willed that all men should constitute one family and treat one another in a spirit of brotherhood…

For this reason, love for God and neighbour is the first and greatest commandment. Sacred Scripture, however, teaches us that the love of God cannot be separated from love of neighbour…

Indeed, the Lord Jesus, when He prayed to the Father, “that all may be one. . . as we are one” (John 17:21-22) opened up vistas closed to human reason, for He implied a certain likeness between the union of the divine Persons, and the unity of God’s sons in truth and charity. This likeness reveals that man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.

In other words, man cannot truly be successful except through a sincere gift of self.

Love is a self-giving — to love is to serve — and to be truly successful is to love and to be loved.

Brother Domenic, it’s clear by your abundant service and gift of self to the school community, and by the community of people assembled here today who love you, that you have truly been successful.

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