Friday, July 23, 2010
Recently, I was honored to be the best man at the stateside ceremony celebrating the marriage of a good friend, who had met his wife while on linguistic field work in Mongolia and married her there not long before. The below is the toast I gave at the reception, with his permission. Names have been changed and a few other minor edits made.
I was a little worried beforehand that my sense of humor might not go over well due to cultural differences or, perhaps, that too much might get lost in translation, but it went over very well, much to my relief.
I'd like to start by thanking everyone who has made it here today to celebrate the wedding of Gerry and Sarah, particularly Sarah's family, who traveled all the way from Mongolia to be here. I'd also like to thank everyone who provided transportation; Bethany, for her assistance tonight; Bob, for the reading; and Mother Rita and Alice for officiating. Last but not least, I'd like to thank Gerry's sister, Maria, who, although she was unable to attend, did much of the planning. I am honored and especially happy to be here now to celebrate this wonderful day with my friend and his bride.
I first met Gerry about twenty years ago through a mutual friend in Dallas, where I had gone to college, but it was when I came back to Texas for grad school at Rice University several years later that we really became friends. A man for whom every intellectual pursuit is an adventure, he has, over the years, introduced me to lots of my favorite music, shared anecdotes and jokes with me that are often entertaining on multiple levels, and proven to be an excellent person to bat ideas around with. Whether I need an intelligent opinion or a good laugh, I can easily find one in a conversation -- or even an email exchange -- with Gerry.
It is this adventurous mind and sharp wit that brings me to a few short glimpses of Gerry and Sarah's romance in Mongolia. Until yesterday, I had not had the pleasure of meeting Sarah in person, but I had heard lots about her over the past couple of years through email.
To pursue his interest in the language and culture of the far away and mysterious land of Mongolia, Gerry moved to an apartment in Ulan Bator, and soon thereafter met a neighbor named Sarah when his friend Boudreaux's wife, Rachel, sent her over to retrieve some mutton from the freezer.
Soon after that introduction, Gerry mentioned that Sarah seemed to be interested in him. The interest turned out to be mutual, and seemed to increase over time. (In fact, I learned that it was Gerry's ready wit that first got Sarah's attention.) From another email I learned that Sarah not only taught chemistry, but was a published poet. Gerry was clearly excited to have met such a beautiful and accomplished woman. They also had lots in common. I quote the following from the end of one email: "[S]he loves Schwarzenegger movies, John Wayne westerns, and classical music!"
And she was getting serious about him, too. Like many women, including my wife when we were dating, Sarah undertook a campaign to make her boyfriend better looking. He gave her the same kind of warning I gave my wife: "You're never going to get George Clooney out of this."
It was good to see romance blossom from afar on the Asian steppes, but was it serious? It's certainly plain when you see the joy they bring to each other in person, but in an email correspondence, you have to pay attention to the little things. Did I begin to suspect that there was something special going on? No. It snuck up on me, but going back through my email, I found clues all over the place.
For example, Gerry's work in Mongolia involved getting people to read long lists of words into a recorder. He chose his new neighbor, Sarah, as his first victim. She read only 486 of the 1200 words on the list he gave her -- and in a sarcastic tone at that-- before boredom set in and she quit altogether. She must have been very keen on him, to have known about that going in!
And then, much later, I learned about Sarah's taste in pizza toppings, which is dubious to American sensibilities. Quoth Gerry, "[I] discovered that my dear wife's favorite pizza is tuna fish, onions, and extra cheese." And yes, he did try it!
We laugh about such stories because they make us happy. What most people would barely notice or shrug off comes to life in unexpected ways in the eyes of a lover.
Western wedding vows frequently include the phrase, "forsake all others." It's clear to me that this is unnecessary with Gerry and Sarah. Each has achieved a success with the other that would make Genghis Khan envious. As he once said, "It is not sufficient that I succeed -- all others must fail."
With that, let's raise our glasses in honor of Gerry and Sarah. May they always succeed where all others fail, in making each other very happy.