My parents recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. After much debate about the best way to honor it, they decided to host a party in a restaurant owned by a family friend. I was asked to give the toast. Despite the fact that I work with words and weddings and have given tons of advice on speeches and parties, I was flummoxed.
Normally, you would expect a toast at an anniversary party to focus on either the couple's relationship or the original wedding. But, my mother hates everything to do with her wedding. Believe me when I say that 50 years has just started to dull her pain at the problems with her wedding. So, the wedding itself was completely off-limits. My parents' relationship was also off limits for a speech. Clearly, over 50 years my parents have found something that works for them, but it's not exactly a story book relationship, unless that story book was written by Edward Albee. Let's just say, we're a family that has conversations at high volume, often with unprintable words, words certainly not appropriate for a public toast.
So, I started to think deeper about weddings and what they mean and why we have them and why it's so important not just to my parents, but to all of their friends and family, that they were celebrating their 50th anniversary. This is what I came up with and what I said. I think it applies beyond my own family.
"As many of you know, I make my living in the wedding business. It's sort of an ironic career because I spent over 30 years of my life avoiding marriage, and then spent the nine months that I was engaged asking my husband if we could elope. But, over the course of my years in the wedding business I've come to realize that weddings, not just marriage, are important.
Weddings are NOT, as the popular stereotype would tell us, just about the bride and groom. Except for elopements, weddings are a communal event and they are about community. I think that's why so many people care so much on both sides about marriage equality rights. We all want a say in how our communities are formed. For some of us, we want those communities formed on values of inclusion and love, others may want their communities formed according to their understanding of religious or historical traditions.
My parents care deeply about community. Not just because as professors and social scientists they study communities and how they are formed and changed, but because they care about their own community. They are actively and endlessly involved in their synagogue, in Girl Scouts, in professional groups, and in the wider community. Even the space we're standing in, Hillbilly Tea, is a testament to their love of community. Hillbilly Tea is owned by a dear friend of my sister's and mine from high school. My parents always welcomed all of our friends into their home. Anyone that we loved, my parents accepted as part of their community.
There are very few people here today who were at my parents' wedding 50 years ago. My aunt and uncles, my father's cousin, and his aunt. Those people represent the original blended community that happened when they were married. Their wedding combined their individual families and communities. Everyone standing here now is part of the community that my parents have worked so hard to build over the past 50 years.
This is why weddings and anniversaries are so important. They remind us that we are not just about two people, but about building a larger community. Tonight, we celebrate the community that my parents have built for the past 50 years. L'chaim!"
Front page photo by Flickr user coolfonzies.