At my brother’s wedding last Saturday, I gave the traditional Best Man toast. I think I did a decent job.
Unfortunately, while facing almost 250 people and hearing my own voice in the microphone, I stumbled and left out a few key sentences, ways of honoring Matt I wish I had remembered. I also deliberately chose to not share full details of a night important in my life as it seemed to make the toast more about me than him.
In the spirit of second chances, I’d like to present the unabridged toast to my brother and include everything I wanted to say.
Once, when Matt and I were kids, I convinced Matt and my younger sister to race around the house a few times. As a ‘reward,’ I served them glasses of milk. His had Tabasco sauce generously mixed in. I wanted to see the expression on his face. Another time, I sold him a Kennedy silver dollar for $1.50. I also spent five or six years trying to convince him that he was adopted and that his name in his other family, his real family, was Steve.
My point: I was not always a good brother.
But he was.
He has always been a good brother to me. Always.
The night I came out to my parents was horrible. If you have ever been the cause of your parents weeping uncontrollably, you know how earth-shattering and unnerving it is. I was shaking, head to foot, trembling by how much sorrow I had caused them. I knew I was not evil for being gay, but they didn’t know that. They sobbed in their bedroom, believing themselves to have failed as parents. I was the failure.
I left them to their deep grief and walked in a trance downstairs, right into the kitchen, where I found Matt washing the supper dishes. In a daze, I picked up a dish towel.
I had come out to my siblings in the prior month, wanting mom and dad to have support when I shared the news. One sister also wept uncontrollably and bemoaned the fate of my doomed soul. The other sister said, “So that’s why you never liked football.” When I told Matt, he did a double-take of pure shock, but said nothing more than, “Oh.”
But that horrible night while my parents wept upstairs and I appeared at his side, ashen and silent, I picked up the dish towel and he turned to me. He said, “Are you okay? Do you need anything?”
Do you need anything.
This was the first time anyone in my family had inquired into my well-being while coming out. I was so busy trying to plan for their experiences, providing a six page letter explaining how I knew I was gay, supportive books for parents, religious support, etc., that I had forgotten this experience might be hard on me.
And it was hard on me. One of the most terrifying periods in my life.
Matt knew exactly what had happened in my parents bedroom moments earlier.
He said, “Are you okay? Do you need anything?”
Keep in mind he was an 18-year-old straight guy from a very religious family living in a small Midwestern town. We didn’t know any gay people, except for Boy George from television. We had witnessed the 1980′s plotline on Dynasty with a gay character and changed the channel whenever the gay man appeared onscreen. Matt found out less than a month earlier that his big brother was a homo. He couldn’t have been thrilled with this news himself. But in that moment, Matt forgot about himself.
At the time, I answered Matt by saying, “No, I’m fine.”
I was not fine. I needed someone to say, “Are you okay? Do you need anything?”
Even today, he may not understand how significant that moment was.
That was twenty years ago.
He is still the same thoughtful, caring man, but better.
Over the phone, we discuss bosses, work projects, and how to ask for a raise. He was the first person I called when I accidentally stole my neighbor’s credit card bill. Uh…twice. I regularly text him pictures of things I find absolutely disgusting and he often replies, something to the effect of, “Please do not send me anything like this in the future. I know this request won’t do any good, but I feel obligated to beg you anyway.” He visits me in Minnesota and we attend the State Fair together. Last year, he brought Bridget, his fiance, and the three of us ate deep-fried cheese curds together. It was wonderful.
In his homily during the wedding mass today, the priest commanded Matt to be generous with others and think of their needs as well as his own.
I thought the request was redundant for that is the very soul of who Matt is.
In our family, he is our moral compass. He is quiet and thoughtful. Slow to action at times, because he wants to think everything through. We rely on his good judgment.
I may have the title of “best man” today, but truly, it’s him.
He is the best man.
I almost wish he were adopted so that we could tell the world, “We chose him. We wanted him. He makes all of us better. All of us kinder, softer, more careful of what we say and do. We picked him and we cannot live without him.”
One of the best parts of Matt is how much he reminds of us of dad. Our beloved father died three years ago and we still miss him. He was a great man. If we want to talk to Dad, we can go find Matt on a recliner watching football and talk to him. When Matt grunts out his monosyllabic response, it’s just like talking to Dad.
That was a joke.
Truth is, we know better than to interrupt Matt watching football.
Dad actually played a pivotal role in Matt and Bridget’s courtship. After Dad died, Matt’s friends sent cards or messages of condolences. But Bridget did something unique. She had a mass said for our father. Matt knew Bridget through their volleyball league, but he did not know her well. Her thoughtful gesture, having a mass said for our father, touched him.
She saw his faith.
He began to see her with new eyes. Matt began to see Bridget for who she really was.
I met Bridget a year later, at a party in her home. If you’ve been to Bridget’s home, you know she is elegant. The house is gorgeous. The party was amazing, with fun interesting people, food everywhere, and laughter echoing throughout. At one point, Bridget pulled me aside and we went into a spare bedroom. She had read King Perry and loved it. She asked me a million questions about the narrator, the story arc, events in the story itself, the future books, my vision, how well King Perry was received.
Ten minutes passed. Then, fifteen. then, twenty.
If you’ve hosted a party, you know that as host, you simply cannot spend that kind of time with one person. People need ice for their drinks! What if the cocktail sauce runs out–who will replenish it? Yet Bridget’s relaxed conversation made me feel as if I were the most important person at the party. She made me feel like I was the only person who mattered.
Matt, if that is your future–feeling like the most important person at the party–you are in for beautiful years ahead, brother.
Sorrow will come into our lives as it must, as it will, unbidden. But tonight, we toast the beautiful years ahead.
I ask you to raise your glasses to Matt and Bridget, and the beautiful years ahead.