If I knew one thing about weddings, it was that they had tremendous opportunities for speech giving. Never being one to care about the actual rules, when my sister was getting married, this would’ve been 2004-ish, I knew I wanted to feel the smooth, dry, cold handle of a microphone in my hand.
After getting the nod from my sister, I wrote a poem of sorts for the occasion. Having just finished a season of Russell Simmons’ Deaf Poetry Jam on HBO, I labeled myself a “Suburban Wordsmith.” Being proud of that title, I even began the reading by introducing myself as such.
I don’t remember how the moment was chosen, or who did the choosing, but I confidently held the microphone in my hand just before the DJ was scheduled to lift people out of their seats. I knocked everyone’s socks off with my little speech.
I think he was happy that it moved her, though I also think it was lost on my brother-in-law (he’s an accountant). But the rest of everyone liked it, or at least they told me so. I should say, the rest of everyone under the age of 70. Given that it was my first time in a room of that size, all I was able to give the old folks was a longing for the days when people spoke loud enough to hear.
Today, the speech—I think—still sits on their dresser, framed in a very gaudy, tacky, but somehow fitting frame that is made up of textured flower heads, all very pastel.
I didn’t know it then, but I do now, that that moment should be counted as one of the most revealing moments of my life. To me, doing that was what any brother would do. But when I really sit back and think about the fact that, for fun, I wrote and delivered a speech that honored my sister at her wedding in very heartfelt ways, the truth is I don’t know too many people who do that. And the ones that would do that probably consider themselves wordsmiths as well. I used to think I did it because I cared more, or had a bigger heart. That sounds like vanity to me these days.
Flying by, the decade since has confirmed that for better or worse I am a writer.
Pete couldn’t remember meeting her. He thought that was weird. Then again, a big sister would’ve always been there, wouldn’t she have? I guess he did have some early memories of her. There was the often told bike incident with little Steven. Oh, and for some reason he could remember her displaying shyness whenever it was clear she liked a certain boy. And he’d never forget his favorite memory of their childhood. It was the day he, ahem, stumbled upon a certain diary entry which contained a baggie of gum that she saved after she was given it–handed–directly from the mouth of a crush of hers. (Not having much time for fear of being caught, he only found it because it prevented the book from closing properly).
He was so selfish that he always took credit for initiating his own desire to live with integrity. Today, however, Pete finally took a minute and realized she necessarily would have been a founding influence, even if just subconsciously. She did the ‘right things’ as a child, and not only stayed out of trouble, but was rewarded for it. Rewarded with high grades at school, with being well-liked by everyone who knew her, and with achieving success in her passions. Those were only a few of the things he unwittingly observed growing up with her.
She also never questioned or interfered with his dreams and pursuits.
Their only moments of tension came when he was too evangelical about the need for everyone to be like him. Oh, and the morning when she criticized the smell of the slightly burnt scrambled egg-whites. He was pretty upset at her for that. What could he say? Egg-whites were one of his only meals whose flavor he enjoyed some 60 days into the restrictive pre-contest diet, and she just had to say something, didn’t she? Oh well. On this day he is in no mood to hold grudges–he’s just sayin’.
These days he sees how she raises her family. There is a lot of stress, there is a lot of yelling, there is a lot of frustration. But what her children will remember is that there was a loving mom. Always. And that constancy, Pete and his sister (and their brother for that matter) knew from experience, was priceless. In this moment of contemplation, he realized that her continuing to live with the values she demonstrated as a child should have never surprised him. Either way, for him at least, the story only gets better.
There came a time when he needed help. He needed someone he could rely on no matter what. He needed a partner who wouldn’t judge him and who would hold him accountable. His mind raced through the names of everyone he knew. There was one name with which he couldn’t find fault, one name which he couldn’t dismiss, one name he knew he wouldn’t lie to out of respect, one name he knew would not let him off easy, and one name who would respect him through the journey. There was one name whose unfailing love blinded her to weakness leaving only strength.
That name was Kate. Thank you Kate. And “Happy Birthday!” All Good.