His name is Bernie, and today is his birthday.
One of the smartest, goofiest-yet-classiest guys I’ve ever known, he was never afraid to poke fun at himself. With his easy-going personality he’s one of those people that never walked away from a stranger. People talk about knowing someone like that. Bernie is that person. He could walk into a room full of strangers and leave behind a room filled with friends. Looks, charm, and smarts made him a much sought after partner for conversation.
We’d be having a talk about politics or golf or the way people drive and I’d be trying to wrap my head around some behavior that had me scratching my head, frustrated. He would offer a summary in a few succinct words. He did it without fanfare and without making a big deal of it. He possessed this Buddhist sensibility. That was the kind of guy he was.
In my book (and no doubt plenty of others) he was the Unofficial Mayor of Waynesville. He knew everyone everywhere. He knew the business of different businesses, and could tell you which ones had a decent shot of succeeding. Here’s an example of the impact he had on his world. Years ago I’d gone downtown and wandered into the newspaper shop on Main Street (a now long lost relic to the past). I grabbed a paper and soda, and as I was paying, the guy behind the counter, who also owned the place, asked how my folks were and told me to say hi to my dad. I hadn’t been there in about a year. Another time I was in town and went with him to one of his Kiwanis Club meetings, where they were talking about doing a haunted house. He immediately volunteered me because of my experience designing them when I was in college. For countless Halloweens after Bernie would call and pick my brain, telling me about the space they had to work with (small), their budget (non-existent), and asked if I could get up there to help.
He’d been in the restaurant supply business for so long there were few who knew more than he when it came to restaurant and kitchen equipment. He could have written a book called ‘Kitchen Confidential’ on the things he’d seen, but he wasn’t an exposé kind of guy.
He had a way of sharing his opinion in such a fashion it often opened your mind.
About a year ago I was up visiting and we had to take a trip into town. He liked to say that when you were living in the mountains every trip was a trip into town. This particular excursion was an excuse to stop at Clyde’s, a Waynesville institution. It was the middle of the afternoon and we got coffee and talked. It was a quiet, unassuming moment, much like the man. Life is filled with moments we realize only later carry deeper impact.
Years ago, back in South Florida, he was thrilled when I took up magic, and would share new techniques. He always referred to himself as ‘The Great Lousini.’ But was as good at a pass, lift, or palm as any pro I’d known. The old saw about how ‘a good magician never reveals his tricks’ didn’t apply. The guy was better than I’ll ever be.
I talked to him the week before he passed away. I made it a point to try to talk to him at least once a week. Some weeks were a lot better than others. I was up there recently. His strength had been much reduced, but the light in his eyes and his wit were both present. The first thing he said when I walked into the house? He told mom we were going to take a trip into town for an ice cream.
I have this great photo I took of him when he and mom first moved up to the mountains of Western North Carolina. Clearing the land on the side of the house where the land sloped up, he happily cut away. He was wielding a chainsaw as I shouted for his attention. He turned around and saw the camera. He hammed it up by holding that chainsaw above his head, opening his mouth like some crazed member of a chainsaw brigade. I smiled as I took the photo, and smiled every time I looked at that picture.
Here was a man much admired and appreciated by all he met. He inspired when he didn’t try. He was my hero, in part because he was so sensible. I grew to admire the boxy style of the Volvo because he drove one for so long. It might have been uncool to most, but not to me, because it was his. It was because of him I learned early in life to appreciate National Public Radio, an appreciation I carry to this day. I can’t turn on a radio without switching to FM and heading to the left on the dial. Turned out to be a good thing I listen so much since a lot of the news I hear is topical and applies well to the courses I’m studying.
Being in a situation where you’re certain you know how you should react, yet can’t, is a tough place. When the thing that triggers confusion is the loss of a loved one, the emotion of choice is sometimes despair. The loss of a loved one is a different experience for each of us. In my case the plunge into fog was quick and without mercy. In the fog I’m fortunate there are people like my mom, reaching out and touching my hand, comforting me by letting me know we take this one day at a time.
My mom is my other hero. She is an Olympian example of strength I cannot possibly possess. Her heartbreak I cannot fathom. My heart cries and struggles as it fights to break free of my chest. She once remarked her job was to ‘help mountain folk keep their heads screwed on straight’. The key word there is help. My blinding quandary is how do I help her?
For the grief that is inevitably going to catch up with me, I am not yet prepared. I’m not ready. Perhaps it makes me something of a coward, convinced I can outrun the pain. If it gets me to a place where I can take my breath before facing the pain, then call me what names you will.
I’ve always been the prodigal son in part because that’s the journey I unwittingly chose. But as I grew older I grew to understand the importance of family, how they prop and support, how they provide insight, refuge, and balance. Conversations where one could disagree without being disagreeable; where one could talk and find a union of the heart and mind. I’m working on my MBA and I’m going to miss those opportunities to talk politics and economics.
When I called the house for the first time after he passed away I heard his voice, thankfully still on the voicemail message. The first time I heard that voice singing, “Nothin’ could be finer than to be in Carolina…” I thought it was so corny. We all did. But it was perfect and it was Bernie. Hearing that voice now brings a smile wrapped in sadness.
And I understood why of late he was reluctant to be seen on the streets of downtown Waynesville. It wasn’t that no one wants to see their beloved Mayor, their hero, reduced of strength physically, even if still a giant mentally. But more importantly to him, he didn’t want people to see him and become worried. That was also Bernie.
I’d give anything for one more cup of coffee at Clyde’s.
Happy birthday, Dad. Thanks for introducing me to NPR and Daniel Silva, among other things. I love you and consider myself most fortunate indeed to have been part of your world.
If we’re lucky, I mean truly lucky, every so often someone will come along and offer you the kind of unsolicited advice that amounts to a life talk. It might happen when you’re a captive audience, or it might be something tossed into play from the periphery of a fleeting moment in your day.
That advice? Well, it might come in the form of a sentence or two.
It might also take the form of a full-fledged conversation. Or, if you’re fortunate, it might be a series of conversations than span decades.
I can remember those significant moments now 30 and 40 years later.
The first time was when I was in Boy Scouts. I was at a weekend event and did something really impressive. Once accomplished I proceeded to strut about like a male peacock displaying his full regalia. I’m certain this deed was not nearly as impressive to those around me, but I was a teenager (which really ought to explain a lot). In the midst of this, one man, my best friend’s father, waited for me to finish then pulled me aside. “Ron,” he began, “whenever you do or accomplish something worthy of recognition let other people notice without bringing it to their attention.”
You know, that’s pretty heady stuff for a 12 or 13 year old. Lee Widner was one of those people who just did that sort of thing. While growing up he was, in some ways, sort of a surrogate father. He often encouraged me with expert subtlety to get those Merit Badges and seriously focus enough on getting my Eagle Scout, which I completed all the requirements for, but moved out of the state and territory before I was awarded this honor. (To make matters more complicated, when I settled and located another troop and scout master, Richard Brown he did the research and could find no information I’d completed the process. I learned of two stories later, though had no way of confirming either. One said the troop disbanded. The other story suggested a massive vacuum created by several assistant scout masters leaving because the scout master left. I’ll never know. And I digress). Point is, Lee took the time to provide me doses of attention ordinarily reserved for his son Brad. I have little doubt, in reflection, that he didn’t provide such doses of guidance to others. It was his nature, and no doubt sewn into his DNA.
The second person that saw something in me worthy enough to garner his attention was my history professor, Ralph Clark. Mr. Clark was the kind of professor for whom people took classes they didn’t need nor would apply towards their curriculum credits. In many ways I was reminded of him the first time I ever watched Dead Poets Society. You see, Mr. Clark took the time to talk about history and went so much further. He loved teaching as much as he loved history, and he loved history. After a series of lectures and facilitation in Honors Western European History he set up a road trip. Destination? Vizcaya (if you’ve never heard of this place, look it up).
I went to college in South Florida, getting both my Associate’s degree and Bachelor’s degree from institutions of Higher Learning. The Chateau Vizcaya was an hour away from school. I signed up and was glad I did. I love history and always have. But what Mr. Clark did transcended anything I’d ever Learned. We walked through the rooms and then went outside and walked the grounds, studying the architecture. Mr. Clark would point out an architectural nuance or an element that had been talked about in class and then quietly step back and watch us engage each other. That keen sense of awareness, of how history would resonate because we were not only exposed to it but we were talking and living it. He was no fool. He knew we’d retain more than he taught.
Last class of the last semester of my Associates degree with Mr. Clark. I was halfway through the room when Mr. Clark said, “Ron take a seat for a moment.” So I did. After the room cleared he came over and sat down next to me. “Ron? You’re about to go into the big leagues. I mean sure, you may have a professor that cares enough for you to get to know your name but in most of your classes your grades are going to be determined by a Midterm and a Final. Extra credit will be a thing of the past.”
He took the time to explain to me what I was getting into. Honestly I had no idea and simply justified his conversation as the rattlings of an old man. But he cared enough to take time out of a day no less busy than any other to talk to me. When he finished he simply said, “Well, that’s all Uncle Ralph has to say.” He retired and went to live in the Shenandoah Valley, a place rich in history. With his departure went a era.
Another advocate was Dr. Peter Roundy. Fifteen minutes into my first class I knew I had to take others. And I did. Much of my electorate requirements were populated with courses taken where Dr. Roundy was professor. Our relationship developed into a genuine friendship. He travelled the world, gone for six to nine months at a time, teaching English in Thailand or some other fantastic locale. In a turnabout for memorable experiences, he told me once, over lunch, I was one of the only students that wrote him every time he travelled. I liked him and couldn’t help myself. His method for dispensing advice was simple: a few words here and there, doled out like chocolate sprinkles on a double dark chocolate cupcake. It was as if he’d see you starting to slip off the path and he’d turn you right again. Of course, if you were me you chose to bulldoze your way through life, only reflecting later on something said and remarking to yourself, “Oh. That’s what he meant.”
And then there was Christopher Burns. I have written much on the man that became my brother with a bond that could not be broken by words or actions. Every living creature should be so fortunate as to have someone in their life so generous. He was a general in my army, champion to my action, and quiet observer to my missteps. He was wise enough, as any oracle, to let me stumble.
An idea man, he often studied and dissected things (including me), looking for a way to make it better. I was fortunate to be the recipient of those talks, even if the ideas might take years to stick.
I still reflect on those conversations and wish I had the chance, especially with Christopher, to sit and simply talk, letting that wisdom pour over me like a comforting breeze. Those talks never truly resonated with me at the time. But that’s the thing with really insightful advice: sometimes it requires time to germinate, to find purchase in the rich soil of the mind. Many take heed and respond to the call quickly. Others like yours truly sometimes miss the opportunity to give such advice the chance to help us change direction. As a result, when it does seat, we’ve already moved on.
I guess my message is this to you, my dear reader. We need people like that in our lives. They give us contextual insight through objective eyes. They are sometimes our reset button. If someone comes along and gives you the sort of unsolicited advice that peels itself like a Foxtail Palm or an artichoke and reveals more every time you glance its way, here’s what you do: if you can’t actually listen, retain and immediately apply that information, at least try to remember the critical piece of it. Give that advice a chance, just as that person who cared gave you. In time, you’ll not only be applying some of those helpful hints and life coach adjustments, but just as good, you’ll discover someone who might just need a little bit of the same.
It’s another way of making the world better one deed at a time.
What would you do with a second chance?
What would you give for one more day?
What would you sacrifice for one more moment with someone you love?
What would you do if that day were granted?
I have a friend, dear and close to me in ways not easily definable, who has battled a progressively debilitating physical illness for several years.
Here’s a guy who’s still a bonafide badass to me. In his youth and younger days he lived a life others idolized or feared.
One of the perks of being so close that wasn’t a perk at all? I was privy to seeing how he had to deal with the pain when he wasn’t putting on airs for the public.
Even with the struggle of declining health, Those happy few of us permitted to hold council with him and receive counsel from him are fortunate indeed.
I’ve known about this physical challenge of his for a while. The first sign of impending mortality appeared to me sometime ago. We were sitting at his office and decided to get lunch. I walked out ahead of him and turned. That was when I saw him wince as he went to stand. A simple effort that taxed him mightily.
The next sign came when I visited him in a hospital. He was pointedly angry the medical staff had resuscitated him (because of the pain, as I would later learn).
But the day, a year and a half later, I got a text message that read, “not doing well” followed by a phone call and message that said, “come by the office and get what you want. I don’t think I’m going to be here tomorrow” you can be assured my heart nearly left my chest in panic.
I’d never heard my friend so devoid of life. My mind became quiet as all non-essential thoughts vacated.
I went to his office and saw a man struggling to walk.
All the stuff in his office, always changing as he got new and different stuff, to him was just stuff. Simple entertainment. To me it was stuff I had to have. I always saw things I wanted. I finally got it. It was all just Stuff. He looked at me and in that moment understood my thoughts. And smiled.
“Here,” he said as he reached for something on his desk. “This might be said to be one of my prized possessions. I’ve had it for over 45 years.”
He handed me a well-loved folding knife. I gripped the wooden handle and unfolded a shining, clearly sharpened blade. At the base was stamped the name “Buck.”
“Wow,” I said. “Thanks. I’m going to take it and clean it up.”
“Why? That’s 45 years of life, of experiences. Know what I mean? I mean, do what you want, but I’d leave it like it is.”
I nodded. Once again he was right.
He coughed. “We’ve had some good times.”
I smiled at him as the tears started. “I’m not ready to say good bye. I’m not ready to see you go.” I didn’t know where it came from, but I’d become a 9 year old boy whose best friend was moving to another country.
“I’ve hung on for those few who it would hurt for me to die. I can’t do it anymore.”
I nodded again, wiping my nose on my sleeve.
“Here, take this. That’s a nice shirt. Don’t wipe your nose on it. Haven’t I taught you anything?”
I smiled and took the tissue. His sense of humor was still as strong as his wit.
We sat there quietly for a few minutes, unusual because we always had something to talk about.
“Thanks,” he said, breaking the silence.
“Everything. For camping. For introducing me to your family. For showers with hot running water. For roasting hotdogs on sticks over an open fire.”
“I would give so much to do that again.”
“I know,” he said with a nod. He coughed. “I know you have to get to work, so go on.” He grabbed a green storage container and filled it with fresh produce: eggplant, mini bananas, tomatoes, avocado, celery, and cucumber. “Take this before it goes bad.”
As I took it he tossed a couple of bags of chocolate in with the collection of healthy fare.
“Give my love to the ladies.”
I nodded. “Love you,” I said as I turned and walked out.
That day was a blur.
The next day I steeled myself to go through the motions, similar to when my brother moved halfway around the world. I’d call his phone and leave a message. I’d keep calling until the phone would stop taking calls. And that would be the end of that.
The following morning I reached for the phone. After 3 rings an answer.
It was my friend, sounding groggy and tired, but very much alive.
“Ah hell, guess I’m still around.”
My heart leapt. “Want to go to breakfast?”
“All right,” he growled. “What time will you be here?”
I made it in half the time.
We went out and had a helluva time. Who knew Denny’s could be the epicenter of a carefree morning where 2 friends laughed at themselves and the world? It ranked as one of the best extended moments ever, talking and laughing over runny oatmeal and cold eggs. Best. Day. Ever.
But that’s the point. It transcended magical. It was a second chance. I greedily drank in every second of that morning. Whatever else I had waiting could continue to wait.
The next time I was at his office he was in no less pain, but his spirit was somehow less burdened and buoyed. Mine too.
“I guess it wasn’t time. Dammit, it sure as hell felt like it.”
I nodded. I could have told him I was glad, but I think he knew.
“I’m thinking we should do hotdogs over an open fire again. Think you’d be up for it?”
He smiled. “Let me know when.”
I called that afternoon. “Want to do hotdogs tonight?”
“See you then.”
He called me later to tell me he’d gotten dirty and greasy working on his truck, and maybe we should reschedule.
Nothing doing, I thought. “Take a shower at my place.”
“Aren’t I lucky? 2 showers in 3 years.”
“See you when you get here.”
It was another great evening spent with a dear friend. A tasty concoction was fashioned out of the ingredients he’d given, a salad right out of a Gastropub.
Hotdogs roasted on sticks over an open fire, and laughter over candlelight and torches in the cool January evening.
It was an evening of beautiful second chances.
And that’s the point.
What would you give for one more day?
Live every day like you’ve gotten a second chance.
Sometimes we miss the cues when they happen.
Let those in your life know, through word and action, how important they are to you.
Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable, to open yourself up to the experience of the passing moment. Don’t sit and wish you had a second chance, another day, to let someone know what they mean to you.
Now then…go and let those people in your life know what their life means to you.
I miss morphine.
I didn’t say that to get your attention, but I do get it. I Understand now why people seek that one of many conduits, one that allows them to become comfortably numb.
I probably should have worded that first sentence differently. I should have said something along the lines of “I miss the paliative effect certain treatments can have on a chronic pain patient’s body.”
When I say I miss morphine that’s not the truth. The reality is I’ve been a chronic pain patient for over two decades. One of the side effects of my car accident, the initiation of this enduring Understanding, was a migraine that lasted 4 months. I was seeing a team of doctors at the time and one of them, a neurologist, prescribed some heavy duty narcotics. I realized, after a couple of days of being swallowed by the couch, staring at the stucco pattern on the ceiling and the television, that it wasn’t for me. I also came to the realization I’d no longer be able to return to my former career in the financial industry.
I worked hard in incremental steps to bump up my threshold and tolerance for pain. Becoming a stuntman served many purposes: learning stunts taught me to regain my motor skills, severely affected as a result of the accident; it taught me confidence; it provided for me clear direction where one was lacking; it taught me to work through pain. Most important, though not clear at the time, it became my true and rightful career. And pain has been my constant companion.
A note about pain and professional stunt performers: if stunt guys and gals went to the doctor or reached for narcotics every time they’d tweaked this or torsioned that, there’d be no one to perform those awesome action sequences that drive people to see blockbuster films movie in the first place. And your choices would be Fried Green Tomatoes or Driving Miss Daisy (not that I didn’t enjoy Both). The truth is stunt performers work through strains, sprains, and tears. Maybe they’ll reach for Naproxyn. I once tore my medial meniscus doing a stunt and ignored the pop until a month later, when the pain refused to subside. That’s when I’d learned there was something amiss with my knee.
As masochistic as it seems I feel the awareness and experience associated with pain is a gift. Plenty of times when we’re experiencing joy and happiness we fail to register and taste every moment. But when you’re in pain? The seconds seem to divide themselves, a kind of mitosis dedicated to letting you know it’s not going away just yet. A minute becomes an hour and an hour becomes a day. A day is an eternity that brings respite only with the possibility of sleep.
A part of me says sure, I could have picked another career. But it was the accident and subsequent career that picked me. It’s a career that continues to give me great opportunities and experiences, including the chance to travel the world and work with some great performers of stage and screen.
A career that’s had me hitting the ground, fall pads, water, and everything in between. I’ve jumped and two-wheeled (or high sided) vehicles for years. Going up is fine. Coming down is more often than not physically jarring. I’ve described the sensation to those not in the know as feeling like someone has slammed your tailbone, full force, with a mildly padded cricket paddle.
Every time we break or twist something we wonder how long to heal. And, amidst all of the other thoughts, that this could be a career ending injury. This reminds me of a comment a fellow stunt man made years ago. He said we are intentionally doing things that could potentially break us and usually with the bare minimum of safety equipment.
So it’s reasonable to believe if I’m beating my body up, then I deserve the beating I get in return.
That’s the thing that causes me some days to feel much older than I really am.
Which brings me to my newest badge of honor. An impinged disc is a literal eye opening experience.
The pain associated with neuropathy? That’s a whole new level. I know plenty of individuals who believed if you can’t see the source of the pain then you’re just making it up. I’ve always wondered about things like sciatica, constant tingling in the extremities, pain that manifest itself in ways that create new benchmarks for personal pain comparisons. But then impinged discs step in to give you the kind of experience that makes a first person narrative too dramatic for words. Suddenly, trying to find a way to get from point A to point B with the barest minimum of debilitating discomfort and – this is almost just as important – not demonstrating to the rest of the world what’s happening. It’s like being a poker player in the game of life where you don’t want to tip the rest of the table to your tell. Dealing with the pain, you start thinking, “what could I have done differently? Maybe I should have spent more time warming up and stretching as well as warming down and stretching.” I know it’s not the latter.
An old friend of mine once gave me a hard time about being so careful with my pickup truck. It was a good natured ribbing about me not wanting to get my truck dirty or scratched. He said a truck needs to be rode hard, that was the thing that gave a truck character and told you it would be reliable.
I guess the human body is the same way. If I were to use my friend’s assessment of trucks as a model of comparison, I’d have to say my body is full of character.
Because let’s face it, nobody ever thinks about stretching after a physical activity. And when I say nobody, what I mean is most every individual I have ever worked with or talk to. The reality is any time we do anything physical we should warm our bodies up for the process. And we should stretch and cool down after. Being aware of this is useful but does little to distract me from the realities of the pain.
And that’s something else to think of. If you know somebody who complains of these issues? try to be a lot more sympathetic and empathetic then you might be.
Early in my Film and TV career I was at a social event bragging about being a stunt man. This old timer, Glen Wilder ( one of the truly finest and venerated individuals in the entire industry), overheard me and leaned in.
“you’re a stuntman,” he asked?
I said, “yes sir.”
He said “you’re not a stuntman till you broke something.”
I’ve been a stuntman for a long time. Like every other stunt man and woman in the business, I can walk you through a connect-the-dot diagram of every injury sustained and tell you where, when and how it happened.
It has been an incredible journey, getting to where I am. I’ve traveled the world, lived in several countries, and made lifelong friends. Two plus decades of defying death in the name of art has been a life alive with charm. It’s never the gravity, or the fall, but the sudden stop at the end.
Now then, where is that ibuprofen?
The reason for the season.
What is it exactly? If you ask 10 people you’ll get 10 different answers. Similar to my experience as an actor and stuntman, every time I went for a new headshot session I would go through the photos and pick the top 10 I felt best represented me as me and not someone else. And I would seek out the council of my experienced actor friends and ask them their opinion. After, I would talk to a couple of casting directors and ask them theirs. Finally, I would go to my agent and let her have a look see. Would it surprise you to know that some folks like the same photo but in almost every instance every individual picked another, different picture. I would make notes who likes what and why, and then I would compare that to my own notes of what I liked. That’s how I chose my new headshot pictures. Ultimately, it had to be an honest representation Of Ron. If this somehow conflicted with my agent’s choice I never told her. And she never said word one to me when I submitted new head shots for her file.
My choice of headshots is a variation of reflectively deciding which path or fork in the road to take, ultimately making the mindful choice of what best serves you and your sphere.
So, you may be wondering how I started on the topic of holiday interpretation and got to a monologue about headshots. While it is critically important to respect the belief and values of others, it is equally important to identify your own values and be willing, through self awareness, to stand for them.
Our belief system is always evolving. As we get older we develop stronger feelings on certain subjects and in many instances abandon beliefs and sentiments we held in our youth. sometimes we make slight modifications and other times we engage in wholesale changes.
What does this mean for you? I can tell you what it means for me. I may not believe in your belief system but I’m willing to listen and learn, & adopt those rudiments as they apply to my vslue system.
Christmas is about the spirit of giving, of family, and of compassion. Hanukkah is about storytelling, light, hope, and faith that all things are possible when you believe. Ramadan is about family, religious observation, and self-reflection. Yule is about acknowledging the cycle and circle of life, and remembering why connecting with nature and each other is so important. And so it goes. See the trend in similarities? Truth is, each of these holds within its bosom a commitment to celebration, remembering, and self-reflection.
Every major religion, including many not considered “major,” celebrate the new year at a time that contradicts the Gregorian calendar. This doesn’t make one more “right,” anymore than local cultural norms that dictate you dine on the floor and eat sans utensils, or sit at a long linen-bedecked table, waiting for the next course to be served.
Here’s the thing. every one of these tenants listed is something that any single individual can get behind and adopt. In that way it’s kind of like getting advice or seeking counsel. Take what works for you, apply it, and discard the rest. Don’t forget the rest because there’s a good possibility somewhere down the road you’ll look through that pile of discards and realize, Hey that thing there just might work.
So that’s the thing to think about not just for the season, but every single day of your life. Remain true to who you are, and be open to the sort of change that is personally fulfilling and socially enriching. You’ll notice a positive change in yourself. Your ever growing circle of friends and family as well as sphere of influence will reflect this. All you have to do is be willing to share and participate.
That sense of self realized connectiveness, the concept of individual wholeness bringing value to the community?
That’s the payoff.
I have had a number of guys approach me about Best Man speeches. Mostly it was, “how do I write one?”
So I decided to offer some insights, as well as post the one I composed for my best friend and his wife.
Know the couple. Chances are, if you’ve been asked to make a speech at the wedding (or be the Best Man), your knowledge of one or both celebrants transcends the casual. If you do not know one or the other well enough do some research. Take notes. Jot them down. You’ll need them later.
No off the cuff or extemporaneous speeches unless your improv skills are superior. Remarkably, the more people drink, the more talented they perceive themselves to be. Don’t fall victim to this painful mindset. I am not good at improv, and chose the careful, deliberate path of well-crafted syntax.
Make basic composition and order your friend. I recommend referring first to the person you are closest to, and then their partner. Finally, speak of both together, as one, since this is the secondary point of the speech: Acknowledging the two individuals as a couple. (note – avoid the temptation to refer to anything scandalous, offensive, or coarse. It may seem funny at the time but will make you memorable for all the wrong reasons. Besides, this is supposed to be a happy occasion, so resist any action that might otherwise sully the event.)
Write the speech, and rewrite it. And then practice it.
Memorize it. You will be the rock in the room as you speak, apparently from your heart (which is nonetheless true), with care and cadence. Take the time to make eye contact with your subjects as you speak to the room.
What follows, then, is the speech I wrote:
I’d like to start by thanking everyone for being here. Tonight’s celebration is as much for you as it is ABOUT Deane and Anna.
I got to thinking: what is the origin of the best man? Isn’t the groom supposed to be the best man?
A little history then, for those of you who might not know.
Once upon a time the best man assisted the groom in kidnapping the bride. (not an issue tonight).
This role evolved over time. The groom’s best man was so named for his ability with a sword, to protect the celebrants, and stave off possible attack. (again, probably not an issue tonight).
I met Deane when he was my director for a production of Hamlet, renaissance festival style. He was a giving and insightful director. Turns out he’s more giving as a friend. Where I consider myself a detail person Deane is a person of detail.
Anna? You are every sort of detail perfectly suited to the man. Deane was cautious when feelings developed, and held on to the word Like more than most would.
But you knew. There came a time when the word *Like* really meant *Love.*
I’d like to think Shakepeare’s Sonnet 83 captures Deane’s feelings for you every time he looks at you.
The thing about the bard: every time you hear the same verse, see the same action, or read the same stanza a new layer appears.
So it is with Deane and Anna.
May you continue to grow in your experiences, even as your Love expands, embraces and envelops each other. hold on to your plural voice, even as you learn to speak in the singular.
Allow your layers to blend and influence your world.
Those layers so perfectly intertwine that your love for each other speaks its own language.
You are well on the way, not just with your love, but with the love of everyone here.
Because that is part of your journey. To make your world a better place, doing so with love. Never believe you can say “I love you” too much.
We cement those layers every time we hold our true love’s hand. Don’t be afraid to hold her hand often.
People remark on how I always hold my wife’s hand. They believe it is a display of our love. Well it’s that, and a little more. I hold her hand as often as I can, because if I let go, she goes shopping.
It is said marriage is not about finding the person you can live with…It’s about finding the person you can’t live without. You have found your fair maiden. Embrace your role as the knight in shining armour…or at least, shimmering tights.
I relinquish my sword to you, Deane. For you are now, for your wife, The Best Man.
Everyone? Please raise your glass and join me as we wish Mr. and Mrs. Laseter a lifetime of love and happiness.
What do we have after everything is said and done?
The memories. And there’s a subtle beauty in this. Because that’s what we both take and leave.
Three years have passed.
How did that happen?
What happens in the time from when we’re children, blissfully unaware, to young Turks, immortal and eager to take on the world?
The blur is the pace by which we transition from twenty to fifty.
But you don’t realize it until you get there, turn around and question where it all went.
Ah, the joy of being a kid living on the edge of space, sitting ripe for the picking of moments.
How do the Fates arbitrarily cherry pick what experiences will be ours?
How do they determine the impact that is to be?
Really, this is rhetorical musing. The truth is, three years later and I’ll be damned if the emotional tax on your departure has been paid in full.
It’s not just the things we’ve done, the places we’ve been, the adventures we’ve shared, but it’s the other stuff.
It’s the disagreements, the disappointments, and the depression.
Too stubborn to look past the first, too proud to look past the second, and too, well, who knows what, as far as the third.
We did indeed hear those bells chime at midnight. We shared many a laugh.
We cried, we celebrated, and we swore we’d make the world a better place. We hashed out idea after idea, with the singular commitment to making certain who ever rocketed first took the other along on his coat tails.
We agreed to do all that together.
You might be just beyond my sight line, this temporary inconvenience, but this thought does little to adequately mollify the roller coaster of melancholy felt.
I am not a wise man, else wise I’d possess a modicum of the wisdom reserved for others.
I am not a sad man either.
So much has happened.
How I wish you could hold Addison Rose. She would make you smile from ear to ear a second or two after you realized what we’ve all figured out: she’s smarter than the rest of us bunched together.
I would willingly do all you asked and more to be able tell you, to your ears, that I finally finished my Bachelor’s degree. And when you’d give me a hug, that would be the time I’d tell you that a half century plus on the third planet from the sun seems like a good time to go to Grad school. We’d finally make good on our plans to join the Guild, or at least talk about it. I would be willing to sit through a viewing of The Vault, just to hear your richly infused laugh. That would be time together, and that would be good enough.
To tip a pint to all these things and more…
I am not a sad man.
I simply wish you were here to share these joys.
Hey? Take care of Fendi. He’s not like the rest.
I promise you that you’ll never want for love from him.