An Irishman's Diary
IN SEPTEMBER I had the profound conviction that time and tide were moving their focus on to a new generation. In that month, on a beautiful – and sunny Atlantic coast in Galicia, Spain, I married my nephew José to his childhood sweetheart, Grá.
There are deliberately no inverted commas around the word marry in the above sentence. For while I have no qualification to marry people in any conventional sense, the commitment made by these young people was taken every bit as seriously by them and their extended Irish and Spanish families as anything in a courthouse or cathedral.
Any fears their humanist-inspired vows would not be treated with reverence were erased by the sight of the bride being escorted down the hillside to the terrace where about 100 guests sat solemnly in the afternoon sun.
As the bride in traditional white gown made her way along the red carpet, between all those who were special in her life, her intended was man enough and secure enough in his identity to let the tears fall freely from his face.
I allowed José and Grá a minute to settle into seats at the top of the aisle, paused for a deep breath and stepped forward . . .
“Such a beautiful setting here today in Baiona, should remind us that like the ocean, a spiritual and loving marriage is a continuous cycle, and there will always be an ebb and a flow,” I intoned. The words chosen by the couple themselves were in part humanist, in part what was described with humour as “Californian”, and very similar to traditional vows.
The couple had asked me to thank their parents for the wonderful lives they have given them and solemnly expressed their determination to go on loving and cherishing each other. I spoke the words they had asked of me: “Marriage cannot be entered into lightly, because it symbolises commitment on every level and this they do so open-heartedly”.
On a side table the couple shared a drop of the ocean. Each hand washed the other, each hand washed their baby Amiah’s hands. As this happened a lone soprano stood and sang so beautifully you would be amazed that air and vocal cords produce such sounds.
In what I felt sure looked a suave and practised move, I held the book of vows out to one of the best men, who placed the wedding rings upon it. “Grá and José, do you promise whatever may come you will love and be there for each other always?” In turn they replied the traditional “I do” as they placed the rings on each other’s fingers.
As I pronounced them “Jose and Gra Lorenzo” I was totally unprepared for the exhilaration, triumph and delight not just of the happy couple, but in the faces of the guests, some of whom were octogenarians possessed of a deep, traditional faith. As they lined up for photographs there was no doubt about what had just happened: it was a wedding.
According to Brian Whiteside director of ceremonies of the Humanist Association of Ireland, numbers of such non-religious ceremonies are growing strongly. In the first nine months of 2011 the association performed 124 weddings in Ireland, but in the similar period this year the number had reached 157. In an exceptional week, Brian performed a wedding, a funeral, a naming ceremony and a reiteration of vows. Enquiries, which numbered 378 in the first nine months of 2011 rose to 700 by this September.
In Ireland many people – such as José and Grá – choose to later go through a separate, legally recognised ceremony. But Brian says government recognition of humanist marriages is coming. It was expected earlier this year and humanists are still hopeful of announcement before the year ends.
“What is a wedding,” Brian asks, “but two people celebrating their love and making a commitment in the company of those they love, with appropriate words, readings and music, in a beautiful place?”
Indeed, a friend told me of a very moving celebration between two women whose declaration of love and commitment to each other she described as very beautiful.
Next year there will be another wedding when José’s brother gets married in a traditional ceremony in a church. I have no doubt their friends will deliver the same joy and respect at this ceremony, as many of them delivered at José and Grá’s wedding.
Time has moved on, focusing on a new generation, which has new rules.
Aren’t young people great!