‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ That’s how the father of the bride began his speech. I was in California again – the place where I had first met the happy couple, curiously, on the very same day they had met each other. Throughout his speech, which marked the various milestones of his daughter’s ambitious and adventurous life, he took the time to thank all the ‘villagers’ who had played their part in looking out for her along the way. Some were present at the celebration, some were not, whilst others were simply names of people he had never met, but who carry his gratitude for what they did for his family.
Interestingly, that sentiment echoed a brief conversation I’d had with the groom’s father on the banks of the Russian River prior to the sunshine ceremony. As we stood together in the peaceful magnificence of the landscape, he spoke gently and with the authority of a man who, like his son, reflects deeply on life. He commented on the splendour of the surroundings and how fortunate we are to find places of beauty everywhere on our planet; places which have the power to make troubles and arguments disappear. Then, acknowledging how lucky we are to be among the kind of people present at the wedding, he added that there are always people around us from whom we can draw strength. Villagers everywhere.
I was privileged to be a groomsman and took my place in a line of six men who flanked the groom, every one a meaningful figure from the various timelines of his personal history. We were mirrored by six women on the other side whose strength and presence embraced and held the bride. It was an honour to be part of that lineup, especially considering the calibre of the others who stood alongside me. Every one a villager.
His best friend officiated, and in his speech he honoured the groom with the following words: ‘His passion for you and your life is infectious. You never have to wonder if he will be there, if he will be excited to see you, or if he will give his all to make you and your day better.’ She, in turn, was honoured by her father when he concluded his own speech by saying: ‘When you’re in her presence, you want to be a better person.’
We are all villagers to each other. When we honour each other, we honour ourselves. Serve another, and you serve yourself because, ultimately, we are all one. We get caught up in our separateness, but actually we all come from the same place. Each and every one of us is both the villager and the village; a concept so beautifully encapsulated in the words of Ramana Maharshi who, when asked how best to treat others, simply replied: ‘There are no others.’