Tuesday, July 07, 2009

my first toast

For my sister's wedding, I gave my first toast ever. I have no fear of public speaking and I also have confidence in my ability to improvise. But this toast meant a lot to me and I wanted to get it right. For weeks I read poetry books and ran google searches for guidance. I didn't want to just say something without some forethought. I started the draft while sitting in court waiting for a hearing to start, added pieces to it in the form of post-it notes when inspiration hit and pulled a working draft together on the plane ride to Salt Lake. I spent some more quality time with my laptop the morning before the wedding but still wasn't sure about it until I got some encouragement from a friend who read through the draft (thanks for that, by the way). The quotes I ultimately ended up using were ones I found in one of my own notebooks where I store bits and pieces of the prized words I love to collect.

I don't know what happened to my final draft with my scribbled notes scrawled all over it, I think I left it at my table after the wedding luncheon. I'm going to refrain from editing this again and just let you know that, more or less, this is what I said in my speech. I gave a bit of an introduction to start out but forgot to introduce myself . . . oops.

“What greater thing is there for two human souls than to feel that they are joined for life to strengthen each other in all labor, to rest on each other in all sorrow, to minister to each other in all pain, and to be with each other in silent, unspeakable memories.”
--George Eliot

This is a bittersweet day for me. On the one hand (the very sweet hand), I am overjoyed with my sister’s decision to marry Jaymon and I am so very happy to welcome him as an official part of our family. Jaymon, I realize we are not an easy clan to join – we’re loud, we’re opinionated, we have a tendency to try and one-up each other with our lengthy stories. What’s worse, you may have noticed, most of us (excepting our mother and your beautiful bride) are convinced we are always right – perhaps that is why each of Erin’s siblings are lawyers. I’ve been told that can be intimidating. But Jaymon, you have shown incredible stamina over the years in tolerating our . . . I’ll call them idiosyncrasies – and continually standing by Erin’s side and the only thing I can attribute that amount of patience and tolerance to is your love for and devotion to my sister. You love her enough to look past the fact that along with gaining an incredible wife, you are gaining three overbearing and obnoxious lawyers for in-laws. And I, speaking for my family, am thrilled to welcome you with open arms into our family (officially).

You remember that I mentioned this is bittersweet for me, right? Well, that is the sweet part. The other side of it is the mostly overshadowed – I won’t go so far as to call it bitter – part of today. But I can’t tell you it is easy to give up my sister and know it is time for our relationship to evolve. I have only one sister, and as you all should know, I got very lucky with that one sister. She is a gifted artist, hilariously funny and an incredibly loyal sister. But I do not just consider her my sister. She is my go-to adventure travel companion, my entertain-me-when-I’m-bored email, text or phone call responder, the best roommate I ever had, one of my biggest supporters and my dearest friend. I know that won’t change when she gets married, but I recognize she is moving into a new stage of her life and we can’t run off to Peru or Iceland quite as readily any more.

Or course, our relationship has had to evolve many times throughout our lives and I have to admit to everyone here, it is hard letting your little sister grow up and become her own person. To turn from the annoying tag-along who is too young to understand and has the habit of imitating you, to a beautiful and independent woman with her own thoughts, ideas and contribution. As soon as I stopped fighting that growth and resisted the temptation to constantly label her as my “little sister” dismissively, I learned I could have something better than a “little sister”, I could have a friend, confidante and adventure companion who could show me her view of the world.

And what a view that is. Erin is a visual person. She always has been. She sees the world through a different set of eyes and if you are lucky – as I have been so many times – she will share her view of the world with you through her art, through her photographs or by simply directing you on where to look with your regular old every day perspective on the world, and the result? Awe. Erin’s unique view of the world is one of the innumerable reasons why I value our friendship – our sisterhood – so dearly.

A couple of years ago we drove around Iceland, just the two of us, a miniature version of a 4 wheel drive, a couple of guidebooks, a map and an ipod full of music. Oh, and Erin’s brand new camera. I was the driver and Erin watched the scenery and apologized for asking to stop to take advantage of the lighting and the spectacular views. I learned another miniscule step in how to look at the world around me with an artist’s eye and gained an impressive collection of vacation photos worthy of any coffee table book.

[I actually feared I was talking too much and skipped this paragraph at the wedding but I'm leaving it in here just in case Erin decides to read it.] I have one story from Erin’s childhood that is repeated more than any other in our family lore. As I mentioned, Erin has two brothers and a sister who are fairly competitive. Growing up we were each, at varying times, on softball and baseball teams and while I do not believe any of us were ever the weakest member of our team, but none of us were really the star and for my brothers and me, that led to frustration which often led to tears. But Erin? Erin was more about the process than the result of winning or losing or being the star. She enjoyed hanging out at the park under the sun with a number of peers with the ability to run around once in a while. She didn’t get upset over a loss or a missed play. And yet, of all of the children in our family, Erin is the only one of us to make a really spectacular play. When she was about 9 years old she was playing third base and when the crack of the bat signaled the ball had been hit, she instinctively stuck out her glove to protect herself from the ball heading straight at her and caught it. When everyone yelled at her to tag her base, she made a double play as we all erupted in cheers with an underlying twinge of jealousy.

Jaymon, I know you and Erin have known each other a long time so I doubt there is much of anything new that I can tell you about her. But as an overbearing and often overly protective older sister, I would be remiss if I did not ask you to watch over her tender soul. Erin is the peace maker in our family. She is sensitive to the needs of others and while she will not always show it on the outside, she feels things very deeply. Growing up, when we all got in trouble, our father would ask us to “LINE UP!” and as we stood there enduring interrogation from our father as he searched for the culprit, Erin would meekly accept responsibility and admit to whatever had been done, regardless of her actual actions. My brothers and I were like the cartoon characters who take a couple of giant steps back to avoid culpability, leaving Erin as the vulnerable volunteer by default. Do not abuse her willingness to accept blame as we did for so long. Take care of her heart, it is a good one and will return to you more love than you have the capacity to accept.

For the sake of symmetry, I will close with both a toast to the newlyweds and a second quote from George Eliot, one that expresses more eloquently than I ever could, the type of sister and friend Erin is and which will translate well into the type of wife she will be.

“Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all out, just as they are, chaff and grain together, certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and with a breath of kindness blow the rest away.”
- George Eliot

Please join me in raising your glasses to the newlyweds.

4 comments:

Tiffany said...

It made me cry when I read it. Very beautiful.

Travelin'Oma said...

The quote by George Eliot is one of my favorites. What a blessing to have that kind of a friend as a soulmate. Good luck to your sister.

Sharon said...

I have your original copy from the wedding. I went to give it to you and forgot. Sorry! I knew you would want to keep it. I loved every word of your speech!!! You were awesome! Thanks for making the wedding luncheon so great!

Natalie said...

Hi. Blurker here... I am friends with your dear friend Emily, and when I read this I just had to share something I read on Paulo Coelho's blog about soulmates. I thought you might appreciate it. He was asking his readers about what makes a soulmate and who their soulmate is. I haven't changed any of the spelling from the original and I thought you might appreciate it.

"I truly believe that we are connected to many people and that they help us with certain phases of our life. As for the idea of your partner being your soulmate, I have to disagree. For me, although I love my husband very much, he is not my soulmate. My soulmate is my sister. We have known each other since I was about 11 years old. We have never fought (sommething quite rare for siblings and stepsiblings as the case my be), we can read each other’s minds ad start laughing about the same silly childhood story at the exact same time. But this doesnt necessary make her my soulmate. I know she is because she is the one person who i could not live without. In our family we have had some near death experiences and my world ends when she stops wanting to live. I cant remember a time when she wasnt my sister, and i cant imagine having to live without her. She makes each day of my life just that little bit brighter and I love her more than she could ever know."

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