My brother Sam’s wedding was Saturday. Despite knowing me fairly well, he let me be his best man. More shocking, he let me deliver a toast-turned-speech in front of his and his bride’s guests which numbered 230+. Here’s what I said. I hope you enjoy.
Before I begin, let’s thank everyone who set all of this up one more time (outdoor wedding/tent dinner). And keep in mind that it was raining during a lot of the time, which means we got wet. And I know I don’t like getting wet. I’d also like to personally thank Tom and Jake. You two went above and beyond in many areas and are now unforgettable.
Next, I’d like all the old people to raise their hand. Okay. If anyone is sitting next to an old person whose hand is not raised, please advise them to move closer to the speakers.
(Reaching into my pocket to pull out a few pages of paper,) I should also warn you that this isn’t going to be brief. Maybe if I had several brothers, I’d keep each one short, but I only have one brother. So take a look at your drinks and pace yourself for about fifteen minutes.
Where to begin? Oh. The title. So, this speech is called, “Relief. The end to living in sin.” It is written from the perspective of Sam and Hannah’s parents, by me. Wait a minute. (shuffling papers) I’m sorry. That was a working title. Oh boy.
The real title is “Who is my brother?”
You see, as I began to prepare for this speech, I realized I haven’t lived with Sam for fifteen years. And so it became clear early on that I might not actually have the most accurate picture of the man. So I contacted some of you who know him best to help me learn about him.
Here’s the thing. As I see it, we could take one of two routes. We could stick with the chronology of Sam, or I see a possibility to use a more abstract approach of determining if there are any themes about him. And since I think themes will be more fun, that’s how we’re going to do this.
To get started, then, I think the most important thing to mention is that Sam is, of course, an H-er man. Many of you in this room know a H-er. And a very select few of you are unfortunate enough to be married to one. The thing about H-er men is that they struggle with the obvious. Our dad, Larry, for instance, thinks the obvious needs to be stated. As a result, I find stating the obvious deplorable. And then there’s Sam, who misses the obvious.
The following anecdote is not funny, so please don’t laugh, you’ll only feel embarrassed. Sam’s first memorable miss was when our grandpa died when Sam was a toddler. After the funeral we all went back to the house and as we sat around the adults noticed Sam was not to be found. When he appeared, someone asked Sam where he was. Sam answered, “Looking for grandpa.”
Lightening the mood gradually here, there’s another time with his other grandparents when Sam did his thing. He was still very young as he sat in the back of the car while they got lost in the new-to-them Kansas City. Finally, exasperatedly, Sam said, “Pull over, Grandpa. Let me drive!”
It seems there was a least one kid who didn’t know that you had to be licensed by the state of Kansas to drive a car.
But the biggest instance of missing the obvious that I’d like to share now is what happened when Sam first called me to tell me about Hannah. He was so excited. So excited. One of the reasons he was so excited was that Hannah had graduated from an Ivy League university and yet had chosen him, he shared. What I didn’t have the heart to tell him then, but do now, is that taking the Ivy Leaguers in the highest seats of political power as an example, I think it’s rather clear that Ivy League graduates aren’t exactly known for their decision making skills. Hopefully Hannah will be an exception.
Okay. So in speeches like this, there comes a time when the bride is required to blush. Hannah, here’s your moment. It’s time to shine.
Hannah, here, unlike many of us who have only heard of yoga, actually practices yoga. And so, Hannah, I just want to say “thank you.” From what Sam has told me I just want to thank you for confirming what I’ve suspected all along. That yoga was invented by a man. For sex.
Seriously, though, Hannah. You have it pretty easy with Sam. Consider what our nephew Harry once wrote about Sam in a book. Chapter one. “My favorite relative is Uncle Sam.” Chapter two. “Uncle Sam’s favorite food is pizza. I like pizza.” Chapter three. “Uncle Sam’s favorite hobby is watching movies. I like watching movies.”
So Hannah, two things. Pizza. And Movies.
Again, as I was talking to some of you, I began to get a different picture from the one I knew. The Sam I knew had a mouthful of gum as our sister Kate stood over him accusing him of stealing her gum. Adamant denial was all she could get out of him. The Sam I knew was the one who once when I was back from college skipped school at my behest. The school called that day and I vouched for him, because I was an adult. Only years later did it come out that Kate was the one who had randomly driven by the house that day and seen his car and phoned the school herself.
But then I heard a story about Sam really enjoying going to Kate’s apartment to watch a movie with her. That didn’t seem like the Sam I knew. And then I was floored to hear that Sam mowed Kate and Mike’s lawn to help out after Harry was born. That also seemed out of character. And many more stories could be told to illustrate that Sam has proven himself to be sensitive. Observant. Intuitive. Instinctive.
Some even know him as an amazing gift giver. I’d like to stop right here though and declare that anyone who receives a white Christmas tree for their big birthday present one year while in high school will forever after give amazing gifts.
Sam is also thoughtful, they say.
And so it became very clear to me that while I initially thought these examples of behavior were out of character, it turns out that he’d been doing them so much that they were his character. Sam is a family man.
Here’s the thing. Each of us has a fire burning inside. Some people have fires that burn so bright they act as a light which draws people to them.
That’s not Sam.
Sam’s fire is the type that burns so hot that it keeps those around him warm.
Okay. Everyone stand up. Audience participation time.
I need your help. (This was the phrase I had previously arranged with Sam’s dj to press play on a certain well-known Stevie Wonder hit.)
I mentioned that I haven’t lived with Sam for fifteen years. This means a lot of phone calls. And we all know that no matter how good a phone call goes, there are some things that will never happen over the phone. Things like knuckles. Or a handshake. An elbow squeeze. Giving a shoulder a squeeze. Certainly you can’t hug over the phone. And these are the common ways men use to say “I love you.” And even now, if I turn to Sam and say, “I love you, Sam,” I’ve been talking for too long for him to get my meaning. Even if I sing it alone, I don’t think he’ll hear me.
But if everyone sings it, I think that should do the trick. We have one opportunity here. Join me in singing to Sam, or you can sing to Hannah if you like. But help me tell him I love him.
(Wait for it)
“I just called…to say…I love you. I just called…to say how much I care. I just called…to say…I love you. And I mean it from the bottom of my heart.”
To Sam and Hannah, everyone!
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.