‘The room was populated by the people I care most about in life. Our faces lived-in and ruddy’
What will survive of us is love.
Philip Larkin’s words come from An Arundel Tomb, yet the late English poet’s conclusion hung in the air – unspoken, but floating above a night of rare tenderness – at a Dublin wedding recently.
A sentiment that felt like something larger than the people, the room, the evening itself.
On Friday, a lifelong friend married the woman who, long ago, became the other half of him.
John’s features were sandblasted by joy – authentic, bone-deep happiness – as Christine was walked to his side. In his eyes, his bride-to-be, was floating in a special light.
Courtesy of their evident delight, the integrity of their love, a waft of magic gusted across the day.
By osmosis their enchantment became ours.
Maybe the key factor in infusing last Friday with such tangible and profound emotional gravitas was the age profile of the delirious couple and the great majority of their guests.
If we were cars, we might be classed as vintage. Certainly, many of us would be struggling to pass the NCT.
At least 20 of our number have been close friends for more than three decades; we are not related by blood, but still we are family.
Bound by shared experiences, bonds forged by mischief, mistakes, sadness, by living and learning, by days on sporting fields or Hill 16, by being there when one of our number required the support of the rest.
Brothers are not always required to share the same DNA.
The room was populated by the people I care most about in life. Older, rounder, our faces lived-in and ruddy.
It feels like no more than a whisper of time since we were young, in the springtime of our journey, life stretching out before us as a ribbon of infinite possibility.
A quarter of a century ago, the period when most of us walked up the aisle, days like Friday were frequent, abundant and, in truth, taken for granted.
John and Christine’s gift was to transport us back in time, to fill us with an understanding of how precious these occasions are.
To remind us that life and love and friendship are beyond price.
And so we savoured a day without any evident flaw.
One of our gang had crossed the Atlantic to join the celebrations, another hopped across from the Netherlands.
We gathered in the Camden Street sunshine for a pre-ceremony pint and the stories flowed as freely as the porter.
One of the boons of the company of close friends is that, no matter the time between meetings, there is an absolute absence of awkwardness.
We all, if we are lucky, know the feeling: Friends that slot effortlessly into each other’s orbit like jigsaw-puzzle pieces.
The stains of life were washed away as we remembered and laughed, flicking through the back catalogue of our days together, playing the greatest hits of our 1990s’ adventures.
A crew of advanced middle age, older, shorn of hair and youth, bursting with the joy of each other’s company.
The day felt like a release from the siege of the passing years, surgery for time’s abuses, a turning back of the clock.
We hugged, we danced, we sang and, after we had drank a little too much and raised a glass to a few fallen comrades, we shed a sentimental tear or two.
I have no idea how it would have looked to outsiders, but for us it contained a kind of life-affirming beauty.
Like John and Christine, we were declaring a kind of love.
A palpable affection, nurtured by the decades, a depth of togetherness that felt bottomless and unconquerable.
Regular readers will be aware of this columnist’s fondness for the Irish writer, Sebastian Barry.
Among his many gentle and astute observations is the one announcing that “the clock of the heart does not follow the one on the mantelpiece.”
How true that felt on Friday as older men grew young together.
Larkin was a famously grumpy poet, known for the dry eloquence of his gloom. Critics have interpreted that frequently quoted line from An Arundel Tomb in contrasting fashions.
But in a hotel banqueting suite last Friday night it was evident that what would survive of us was love.
And anything in the world felt possible.