On the Courage it Takes to Get Married – Try Not to Cry

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This is one of the best pieces of writing on the institution of marriage – on the level of commitment and sheer courage required – that I’ve ever encountered. It also happens to be the speech my best man gave at my wedding eleven years ago. I don’t think he would mind me mentioning his name. He’s an actor named Colin Cunningham. You might know him from Falling Skies, Stargate SG1, or about a hundred other movies and shows. He’s also a writer, as you will see.

His parents and mine knew each other in Ireland, and since the Irish tell their kids to call all their friends “aunt” and “uncle”, we grew up thinking we were related somehow. The adventures we had, as kids and adults, could fill a library.

One of the things we share is a sometimes inappropriate sense of humor, and even his wedding speech was not spared it. But it still works, perhaps because of the contrast it provides against the story’s depth. You can skim over his obligatory praise of me if you want. I won’t mind. It gets more interesting as it goes along.

Enjoy! And if you’re married, be proud that you are among the most courageous.

“The great romantic, Leo Bascallia once wrote, ‘What love we’ve given, we’ll have forever. What love we fail to give will be lost for all eternity.’ I believe just after that he shot himself in the face. But I digress.

Friends, honored guests . . . and people sitting at the weird, kind of ‘not really any of the above’ table . . . 

I’ll try not to lament on how I met Mark Rickerby, our anecdotal childhood, nor the honor it is for me to be here tonight. This is not a tribute. Mark’s not dead. He’s just getting married.

Neither am I here to offer advice on matrimony. I am a bachelor, have never been married and hold my toilet seat up they way our Marines held up the flag at Iwo Jima.

Instead, my role here today as best man (if I be worthy of such a title) is to represent one of the greatest friends I’ve ever known. But also to perhaps ‘introduce’ him to those on Claudia’s side of the aisle that may not know him as well as I.

Mark Rickerby is a friend.
A protector.
A romantic.

Not the ‘bubble bath and chocolate’ kind of romantic, but one of an insatiable quest to find beauty in all things.

A writer.  
A poet.  
A Hemingway rowing through an ocean of tripe.

Mark has always been one who searches out the triumphs of ‘day to day’ to pay tribute to much forgotten. Mark has always thought a little harder, looked a little deeper, and felt a little more.

A man who has battled for such trophies as integrity, bravery, character, respect and honor, words no longer as common in today’s vocabulary, for they are trophies that do not come with a scratch and win, Happy Meal or Diet Coke. They are things to be earned, not granted simply because you exist.

And so, all I can do is tell a few stories that may enlighten you as to who Claudia’s family will be spending Thanksgiving dinner with.

As younger men, Mark and I spent much time traveling about the Greek Isles, and when others were showing how progressive and enlightened they were by going topless, getting tattoos and having their genitals pierced, Mark was sneaking into the Parthenon just as the sun was setting over Athens.

Then, after all the tourists had been ushered back to their hotels and cruise ships, by the light of an Aegean Moon, he would come out of the shadows and take his own personal tour. He’d stand where Aristotle stood, where Socrates once spoke. One more Man pondering the what’s and why’s of life. One more ghost.

For as a younger man, Mark had the wisdom to know that his rights of passage would encompass more than a beer bong. That, and if he wanted to pierce his wiener, well, he could do that right here in West Hollywood.

One morning on the Greek island of Paros, as the college graduates were icing their nipples, Mark pulled me away from the action to visit a local graveyard. As was Mark’s style, his purpose for travel was always far greater than putting notches on a pension’s bedpost.

The small cemetery was old but tidy, nothing incredibly unusual, only this one did have something neither of us had ever seen before. There were small, glass boxes – ‘aquariums’ if you will – at the head of each grave. Some were very old, others current to the times. But what they all had in common was the fact that they all contained personal contents of the deceased. Things such as a pocket watch, photos, medals, etc.

I know it may sound a bit morbid, but bear with me. It was incredible, for these glass boxes were essentially ‘windows’ into their lives, and reminded one of things far greater than any cold headstone ever could.

Well, Mark and I had never seen anything like it. You literally got to know the person that lay before you – their family, friends. It was exceptional.

Having many questions about the place, we looked over to see a lone caretaker tending to a corner at the far end. He was an old guy. Quiet. Just sweeping about the place.

And so, keen for information, we approached the man.  

Respectfully, we began our barrage of questions as to ‘why’ and ‘how’ and ‘what’, etc.  But the old guy spoke NO English and instead just looked at us like we’d just asked him to scrub a lizard or something. He then gestured for us to follow him.

With that, we came to a small headstone and yet another glass box. In it were a couple of old black and white photos. One of a young woman and the other of a young couple.

Mark and I had no idea what it was, or why the man had brought us there. It was then the old man pointed to the ring on his finger, and then pointed back to the glass box.  

He was the man in the photo. And the woman buried there was his wife.  

To this day, I have never seen a sweeter, more profound introduction. This man took a part-time job at a cemetery so that he could be close to the woman he loved.

And it was then I realized . . . marriage is not for the timid. Not for those who seek safety. It is for the most adventurous. The most brave. It takes great strength. Determination. Faith. It is a subscription to things far greater than you are alone. It takes guts.

It takes a romantic.

My trips to Greece basically ended with a container of bad potato salad. But Mark continued on throughout the Mediterranean, throughout Europe…. and finally, to San Juan Capistrano where he met Claudia. And she turned out to be a friend of such beauty that it inspired, perhaps, his greatest adventure of all.

That said, I would like to raise my glass and propose a toast. On behalf of myself, my family, and all who have come together to make this day special.

To Mark and Claudia Rickerby. May God bless you, as we have been blessed through you. My love to you both.”

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