A Poem For The Wedding

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It was in Chicago in the spring of 2015 standing under the pavilion pictured above on a cool, spring morning, when my former student and friend, Kevin, told me that this was going to be the site of his wedding in July of 2016.  It was my second trip to Chicago since my retirement and we always made a point of spending some time together enjoying the town’s breweries, restaurants and, always, a game at Wrigley.

We admired the view and imagined how great a day it would be for him, when he suddenly asked if I’d be willing to do a “reading” at the wedding.

First of all, I have NEVER been in someone’s wedding.  Never.  Not a best man, not a groomsman, not a ring bearer.  I honestly thought that Kevin was just being polite to his former English teacher and that he’d eventually realize his mistake and find a way to graceful withdraw the offer and bestow the responsibility on a close friend or family member.  So, I promptly quit thinking about it although I had been truly touched by the gesture.

But then, months later, he followed up with an email to check and make sure I was still planning to come to the wedding, do the reading, and participate in all the pre- and post- wedding festivities.  Then it hit me that I was actually going to have come up with something poignant, meaningful, and hopefully not generic because I had really grown quite fond of Kevin and his fiancé, Elizabeth.

One quick look through my favorite book of poetry convinced me that I could not recycle some old love poem without it turning into an English lecture and a boring list of conventional wedding wisdom.  They were a vibrant, modern couple, and I wanted to give them something more original.

I started to envision a mash-up of poetry and song lyrics and somehow weave them into sort of a cool, spoken-word, hip-hop kind of a rhythmic poem that wouldn’t just be read but would need to be performed. The fact that I have never done anything remotely like this, or that I never actually listen to this kind of poetry/music and wasn’t likely to start, did not seem to intimidate me even though “fear of failure” is pretty high up on my list of personality traits.

I watched the weeks begin to click by and began to work on the poem exactly one month before I would have to present it.  I jotted down pages of lyrics of love songs that I thought might fit and at times would find myself dashing into my study to jot down a fragment of a line or two that had come to me while I was driving or in the shower.  It was constantly on my mind.

I would fall in love with a lyric or a line or a concept that I would come up with and find myself trying to shoehorn it into the poem convincing myself that it really did work. The editing was excruciating as time and time again, I had to jettison my favorite parts because they simply did not work with the whole, and in fact, I watched it get better and better as I let go of unwieldy pieces and smoothed the edges of others. The more I worked on it I was pretty sure it was starting to sound more like Dr. Seuss than Dr. Dre.

I came up with the title, “The Road to Yes”, from an experience with my wife where we noticed that when things were going well that we could quickly get to “yes”–a consensus, an agreement, a compromise.  I did not mean for it to imply that good couples always agree with each other.  It has always seemed to me that if couples always agree, one or both of them are just not paying attention.  Rather, I wanted to say that a couple is likely to be happy and successful if they both assume that agreement or consensus or compromise is always inevitable at times of conflict.

So on that lovely, warm July afternoon, as pretty as a summer Chicago day could possibly be, to honor my friends, Kevin and Elizabeth on their wedding day, I read the following:

The Road to “Yes”

Every relationship begins with a “yes”

There is no “It Had to Be You” (sung)

Though we wish it were true

But somewhere there came a moment

Where both Kevin and Elizabeth said

Yes,

I like you too.

I like you more than I’d like to admit

And I know that I should take some time to sit

And think this through

But there really is something I like about you.

He came from out west and she came from

“My kind of town, Chicago is…” (sung)

he biked around seeking gig after gig

Even on days where it was as hot as hell-y

Just to arrive at a place called Potbelly.

Where he worked for Elizabeth–

it didn’t always go right

“He’s too easy-going”

“She’s a little uptight”

because sometimes love has to grow

and be slow

not everyone gets to say

“you had me at hello”

For love to last

For love to stick

love sometimes is built, brick by brick

slowly and with care

between two lovers who dare

to love and not be scared by

how they are not the same.

Their story began with a timid first yes,

followed by,

the hopeful yes of engagement,

and now the resounding yes

that our friends will share today.

The word “no” is a minefield you must reject

eject

elect instead to say

Yes, to our imperfections

Yes, to our differences

And Yes, I will hold in my heart

every tiny bit of you, and

every tiny bit of us

that has made me love you

and brought us to this very moment.

May your love lead to a dedication to “yes”

To the daily affirmation of your love, your uniquenesses,

your challenges, your flaws, and yes, to the many glowing traits

you both possess

that are the reason

we surround you both with our love today.

Note:  The poem had different stanzas and line breaks, but WordPress tends to toss them all out no matter what I’ve tried so far.

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Driving Down Memory Lane–Literally

After four years of retirement, I began to realize that I have more time available than I need for my many critical pursuits:  travel, reading, writing, home projects, gardening, napping, and beer drinking.  So, it was almost inevitable that I began to think more about volunteer work.  I already volunteer occasionally for a local environmental non-profit that specializes in teaching the basics of composting and other sustainability projects.  I also substitute teach at my former high school which is tantamount to volunteering given the amount of money one is not paid for working as a professional teacher.
So when I was ready to make a regular commitment to an organization, I had no hesitation to select San Diego’s Mama’s Kitchen.  Besides having been a regular donor for years, a close friend of mine is the head chef and my wife and I have attended many of their events and fundraisers.  Mama’s Kitchen provides 7 days worth of food, every week of the year, for nearly 600 San Diego residents who are affected by HIV/AIDS or cancer.  They have a cadre of drivers who spread out over the county delivering both hot and cold dishes three times a week and are always in need of more.

After my orientation, I selected the route that was closest to my house, west of where I live now but directly south and east of where I grew up and all around where I went to elementary school.  And there will be another post where I talk about what it is like to work with my clients, how I am slowly getting to know their needs and quirks, and how I have started to worry about them at times, but that is not what this is about. Instead, I discovered that my route unexpectedly took me back to people and memories and experiences that stretched back to my childhood.

I have to mention that I would never complete the route on any given day without the help of Siri.  Left to my own devices and sense of direction, people would starve.  Siri and I have become so close that I actually pay little attention to the street names or the how I am getting from client to client.

So, as I’m blindly following Siri’s friendly but imperious demands to “continue on Federal Blvd for 1 mile and then turn right on 61st St.”, suddenly I’m seeing street signs and buildings that have been hugely significant to my development as a person.  Honestly, I was stunned at how this route would string together memories spanning nearly every decade and every important stage in my life.

The first street sign that brought me up short was La Corta Dr. where my first girlfriend lived.  We were in the first grade.  Having a girlfriend at that early age just meant that you had admitted that you liked her, she happened to like you back, and it was ESSENTIAL that NO ONE should ever know or find out.  Our mom’s drove us back and forth to “play dates” that I have almost no memory of, but I do remember that she was a petite little blonde girl, and I thought she was absolutely beautiful.

And a single block further down was where, Mike, one of my buddies from high school lived on Madera St.  One night when I was sleeping over, I discovered that he lived next to someone who allowed Sandy and the Classics, the pre-eminent cover band for all big high school dances, to practice in their garage.  Hanging outside on a warm summer evening, listening to them working on all of our favorite songs while we dreamed of all the fantastic girls we were never going to meet in the coming year at the dances in our steamy, stinking gym, was like getting to be backstage at a free show. It was about as good as life gets for a ninth grader.

Next thing I know, I’m cruising past Morse High School, the site of my very first teaching experience. Back in 1975 I was assigned to Morse as a student teacher to teach one sophomore English class for one semester.  I had a wonderfully patient master teacher who forgave me all of my inadequacies and spent endless hours talking to me about teaching, life, and personal development.

I so owe those sweet kids an apology.  I was woefully unprepared to teach them anything about reading and writing and simply did not know how to plan thoughtful, cohesive units.  What they got was my energy, enthusiasm, and sense of humor which helped to paper over some of my shortcomings.  The class was a wonderful mix of Anglo, Mexican, Samoan, Guamanian, Native-American and African-American kids. Day after day when my lesson, planned for the 55-minute period, expired after 40 minutes, instead of giving up and giving them “free time” I’d go from student to student and check in with them, badger them about missing homework, find out what they were up to outside of class, encouraging them to keep trying hard.

It was not unusual to see those same students that same afternoon helping out their moms with the grocery shopping at the market, located just a short distance from the school,  where I was a grocery clerk.  It must have been weird for them to see me as their English teacher at 10 o’clock in the morning and as the guy bagging up the family groceries just hours later.

I cruise past the latest iteration of my old grocery store, still anchoring a crumbling strip mall as I’m rounding a corner on my way to my very last client.  But before I make that turn, I pass by Darby St.  Halfway down Darby sits the first house my wife and I owned, our starter house, purchased back in 1977 on the day that Elvis died.  I remember hearing the news as we were in the midst of signing away our lives.

We didn’t think of the house as a wreck, but in fact, it was by every measure a major fixer-upper.  In three years, we painted or wallpapered every square inch of the place inside and out, ripped up the avocado green indoor-outdoor carpet that greeted us as we walked in and re-did all of the flooring.  It was just getting comfortable when we were finally driven to sell after battling constantly with a noisy garage band across the street.  Sandy and the Classics they were not.

I sit in my car across the street from our old house now and I can barely recognize any remnant of the work that we had done.  As far as I can tell, the garage band is long gone.

I rouse myself and get back on the road to make my last delivery to a nice guy who has two very active dogs in a small house that most would call run down.  I suspect his wife is the patient.  He is chatty and fun to talk to.  We say goodbye, and I take the short cut back home where I sit in my driveway, steeped in the snapshots of so many unexpected memories.