Love’s Humble and Astounding Magic

A good friend of mine, and a fellow I’ve been honored to share the stage with for several productions, recently gained a daughter-in-law. James Keegan’s son Thomas married Alyssa Wilmoth, both of whom are good friends, former Shakespearean colleagues, and one-time Toby-sitters. James was tasked, as dads are, with delivering a toast at the wedding reception, and everyone knew to expect something very good and moving, considering James’s wit, intelligence, breadth of literary and theatrical bona fides, and power of delivery. 

No one expected it to be quite this good.

I asked him if I could post it here, because I thought it deserved to be heard by more folks than were actually there, that it had a resonance beyond the event for which it was intended. He said it was cool, so here it is. Thanks, James. 

* * *

As the father of the groom I wanted to say a few words on this important day in my son’s life and I wanted to welcome Alyssa into the Keegan family as I know she is welcomed also into the Lamoureux and Colwell families. I also want to thank Tom and Kathy for so warmly welcoming Thomas into the Wilmoth clan.  

It is one of the wonderful truths about days like this: we are enlarged, we are more than we have been, and we have you, Alyssa, and you, Thomas, to thank for it, because you have had the good sense clearly to see and deeply to value each other’s spirits.

Thomas, I am happy to say that I have always liked you, and I still do. From the time you were a small boy you demonstrated three important traits that I have always loved in you and that I have been so pleased to see that you have retained and developed over time: the first is a willingness to enjoy life—to laugh, to have fun, to take pleasure in others—it was my own father’s greatest trait and it makes my heart sing that it has come down to you. The next trait I would call compassion, or fellow-feeling, or an innate sense of responsibility for the welfare of others and for justice.  Even in preschool you were a head taller than every other kid in your class and you were always fiercely protective of your comrades, and I know that there are friends here today that would attest to your staunch loyalty and unswerving dependability over years of friendship. The final trait I would talk about here is your romantic heart, your tender heart, your imaginative and open heart.  This is the trait that at the age of four, sitting on my lap on a 4th of July night in Rockford Park in Wilmington, Delaware, watching the fireworks burst overhead, caused you to look up into my face and say, “I’d like to die remembering this.” In the moment the statement was astounding to me, deeply romantic, and rather Irish as well—for there is no one like the Irish in my experience for expressing joy in terms of the poignancy of life’s precariousness.  

From your father’s view, my son, these are three of your greatest character traits. And from them emanates a strength and confidence in you that I have admired and watched others admire as well. I would also observe here that you have a great vulnerability—it is what some might see as the “weakness” that makes all those strengths possible, but the idea that it is weakness is a misapprehension. As far as we have come as a society, men still learn this idea that they must not show fear, must not reveal doubt, must not acknowledge woundedness. If you can embrace this vulnerability and if you can reveal it to this marvelous woman to whom you have dedicated yourself today, it becomes ironically the greatest strength of all, I think.  

Alyssa, beautiful Alyssa, how I love you and what joy it gives me to call you my daughter. I won’t even say “in-law” because you are already the daughter of my heart and “the law” seems a slight thing in comparison to that. You and I have been fortunate to have known and worked with each other even before this great love blossomed and grew between you and Thomas.  How many times have we come off stage from doing a scene together and spontaneously expressed our love to one another? I believe we both meant roughly the same thing in those moments.  But just so I say it, what I meant was “thank you for being passionately and completely present in the moment,” “thank you for risking the truth with me,” “thank you for putting the story we share before what you might want for yourself.” These are markers of a fine, fine actor, but to me they are very much about who you are as a person. You are talented, you are courageous, you are passionate, you are joyful and sorrowful and willing to face the fearful power of both of those sides of human life. You have a willingness to laugh and to love that is attractive to all those who know you.  And I have to think it is one of the things that you and Tom identified early on in each other and that you continue to cherish. You and I know that you can on occasion fall into the trap of perfectionism and be terribly hard on yourself, but I have watched you come to terms with this too and address it not by denying it but by the much more challenging and soul-expanding response of embracing it. Finally, I always love to hear you sing because for me so much of your startling connection to the emotional force of life lived inside the present breath of the body comes through when you sing.

When I look at the two of you together here as husband and wife my heart fills to overflowing. And I think, how fortunate these two people I love are to have found one another.

Last year, as we were looking forward to this day, I was playing Prospero in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. The play is about magic, particularly about the twin human magics of compassion and passion. Prospero for all his magical powers can only return to the world properly if he embraces the ordinary human magic of forgiveness that arises out of compassion, out of fellow-feeling. And though he can use his art to draw together his daughter Miranda with the shipwrecked prince Ferdinand, he cannot make the two young people fall in love—that is a magic and a mystery beyond his finally meager abilities.

It is very telling, I think, that structurally the scene in which Miranda and Ferdinand acknowledge their love for one another is at the very center of the play. Prospero is above the action and basically beside the point. He comments, but the audience is riveted on the electric magic of love that commands the stage.

The two actors who played those roles—my dear friends Miriam Donald Burrows and Patrick Midgley—are, I am pleased to say, with us today. They did beautiful work last season and I always loved watching them play that scene, and I loved to watch the audience in love with their characters’ love.  

Because I knew then that this day was on the horizon, I never watched that scene without thinking of this day, without thinking of Alyssa and Tom.

In that scene those two young fictional lovers virtually wed one another by way of their own heartfelt impromptu vows. The words Prospero speaks in that moment amount to a father’s joyful observation and fervent prayer.  

I thought then that those words would be fitting for this moment and I would like all of you to join me in offering them to Alyssa and Tom as a blessing on their union: In front of you there is a little bookmark favor that bears the quotation—in theater parlance, that is your side. Would you all join me now in speaking Shakespeare’s words over this pair of newlyweds, whom we so dearly cherish:

“Fair encounter 

Of two most rare affections.  Heavens rain grace 

On that which breeds between ‘em.”

Alyssa and Tom, I have another version of that blessing for you both as well, a humbler one that hung always for my entire growing up in the kitchen of my parents, Tom’s grandfather and grandmother, Bill and Nora Keegan, as an ever-present reminder of who they were and could be to each other each day.  

It is appropriate to a wedding in several other ways in that 

it is now old, and yet its sentiment is always new, 

it is borrowed (because to me it will always be theirs even as it now becomes yours),

and it is written in blue—the color of hope, love, harmony.  

It alludes to the Gospel of Matthew and to Jesus’s message that love is the way. Here is what it says:

When two fond hearts as one unite 

The yoke is easy and the burden light.

In The Tempest Ferdinand and Miranda have an instantaneous recognition of one another: the girl sees the boy and says “Lord, how it moves about. ‘Tis a spirit.”

The boy sees this vision of a girl and says, “O, you wonder.”

But after that immediate recognition, which is magical indeed, as all of us who have been fortunate enough to experience it know, a deeper magic happens in that central scene of the play.

Miranda in that scene with Ferdinand sees him bearing his burden in the world and her response is the lover’s response of compassion. She asks Ferdinand to let her bear the burden for him. She tells him it won’t even seem like work to her. His reply is the reply of passion, for he tells her that whatever load he carries doesn’t seem burdensome as long as he is in her company while he bears it. 

And that—that potent mix of passion and compassion—is love’s humble and astounding magic. Alyssa and Tom, that magic is yours today, and in this joyous moment, your father wishes it may always be so. Bless you both.

With that I ask you all to raise yourselves, your glasses, your hearts, and your voices.  Alyssa and Thomas.

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