Love is a verb

By Os Keyes

This is a very broad reconstruction of the speech I gave at my sister’s wedding in Northern Ireland, where I was the Jewish officiant. It was fantastic and joyous and I got to wear a frankly beautiful suit, shown at the bottom

Ladies and gentlequeers, I stand before you today…a fourth generation divorcee. I got divorced. My parents got divorced. My grandparents got divorced. My great-grandparents got divorced when doing so meant having an Act of Parliament passed. Marriage, it seems, is not one of my family’s strengths.

But despite that track record, I’m standing here today smiling at the prospect of Abi and Jude’s wedding. I’m standing here today in joy. Some might suspect that’s because, well, I’m an older sibling - I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t delight in a bit of schaudenfreude. But really, it’s because in Abi and Jude, I see a relationship very unlike the ones in our family that fell apart. I see something inspiring; something good.

See: I can’t know for sure why all those divorces happened. But I can guess that at least some of it was the inheritance. Coming of age in a dysfunctional marriage teaches you some terrible lessons. You learn that you have to be perfect; that failure is unsafe. You learn that mistakes are fatal, and that vulnerability is a trap. And so when you do come of age, you oscillate between two different, equally-unpleasant poles. You either shut down: never being vulnerable, before anyone else. Or you end up treating anyone who has the grace to accept your imperfections as the best you can do.

None of this is unique, or special: it’s just an extreme form of this broader culture we live in, one that preaches invulnerability and unique independence as the ideal, and frames love as either perfect, or not love at all. We reinforce this, and hear this, all the time: just look at Minister Tobin’s words earlier. That famous passage from Corinthians: “love is patient, love is kind”, and all the rest.

But the truth of the matter is love isn’t perfect. It isn’t always patient, or always kind. And giving, or receiving, love, doesn’t require perfection, either. It can’t - because we’re all flawed creatures, imperfect forms of ourselves, imperfect subjects of and agents of love. We spend our existences becoming ourselves, and becoming better. And we do so in relation to, and through collaboration with, each other.

And that is exactly why I’m smiling today, looking at Abi and Jude. Not because I see perfect people, or perfect love. But because I see people who are imperfect, and recognise it. Because I see people committed to making space to be better, together. Because I’ve been privileged to see their day-to-day life together, and see that they don’t stew on imperfection, or cast blame when things go wrong. They work, together, to do better. To be happier. Because they see in each other both a person they love being with - and another person they can’t wait to meet. And I can’t wait to meet those people either.