Last weekend my dear friend Kent got married, and I was lucky enough to be there.
I have known Kent for 15 years; we met through mutual friends at Villanova University. My first reaction to him was, “Who is the nerd in the pleated khakis?” We could not have been more different – I was the tattooed smoker who wrote bad poetry- he was the clean cut engineer who sang in the church choir.
As time went on, he loosened up a bit, I stopped pretending to be Janis Joplin, and we realized we had more in common than we thought. While most engineers used their free electives for classes like “Natural Disasters”, Kent gravitated toward theology and literature courses. He may have become addicted to nicotine through my second hand smoke, because eventually he just began smoking himself. (We are both clean now). Deadly carcinogens aside, it was during these smoke breaks that I discovered a fellow seeker in Kent. By senior year he was one of my closest friends.
So close, in fact, that after graduation we actually dated for about a
week month week. It didn’t take long for us to realize that we were much more interested in swapping books, talking about God, and harmonizing to The Cranberries than we were in making out. I visited him at Notre Dame where he attended grad school. It was a difficult visit, and in retrospect I see that he was on the cusp of something big. He was distant and distracted, full of agitation and restlessness.
Kent surprised me with his fearless decision to sign a teaching contract in Austria, and then, years later, Shanghai, China. I suspected he was embarking on more than a physical journey; perhaps he needed to separate from all the voices around him in order to find his own….to escape the oppressive trappings of familiarity and expectation in order to free what was percolating deep inside of him.
When Kent told me he was gay and had fallen in love with a musician/teacher named Hanrich, I was so consumed with admiration I thought my heart might slingshot right out of my chest. I knew that for Kent -a loyal Catholic, an adoring son to his loving yet very conservative parents – to come out was an act of sheer bravery and commitment to the truth.
Kent, to see you so happy brings tears to my eyes. The difference in you is amazing. You are still the Kent I know and love, but it’s as if you have gone from driving with the emergency brake on to driving with the top down. Everything about you is more relaxed and at ease….even your wardrobe. (Goodbye, pleated khakis!). Thank you for reminding me that I am the only one responsible for my own happiness.
I love that you and Hanrich are a part of my daughters’ lives; that they will grow up knowing that there is no set formula for love. It is my dream for my girls to one day find someone who sees in them what Phil calls “the golden orb,” and for them to discover and nurture that light in the other person. To share that with another person-regardless of gender, skin color, or religion- is to find God.
And Hanrich, I could not have invented a partner for Kent. The energy in the room brightens when you arrive. With your bear hugs and those big baby blues…I feel as if I’ve known you forever. You are the
gay friend every girl dreams of. Your charm, sensitivity, and ability to make a shabby chic centerpiece out of plywood and desert botanicals are second to none. But the greatest gift you have given us are the parts of Kent that were previously kept hidden under bad golf shirts.
To You Both: At weddings, I often think of the final scene of Muppets Take Manhattan, when Kermit marries Miss Piggy. It demonstrates how weddings bring together a wide range of characters who otherwise never would have met: Big Bird, Gonzo, Dr. Teeth. People from all walks of life come together for the sole purpose of celebrating the love of two people.
Amidst the celebration on Saturday, I took a moment to look around me and soak it all in: people from China, South Africa, Canada, New Jersey…gay, straight, young, old, liberal, conservative…never have I been part of something so unique and inclusive. I saw our parents’ generation rally against the deep grooves of antiquated, divisive beliefs. I watched love triumph over fear. Your gift to us is your commitment to each other; what a miracle it is to witness others transform in its light.
I write this to you on my 8th wedding anniversary. Every year Phil and I watch the video of our ceremony. This year, as I listened to the homily delivered by our friend Fr. Peter Donohue from Villanova, all I could think about was the two of you, and how you have already achieved what it takes many married couples a lifetime to find.
I share Fr. Peter’s words with you here -may they always remind you of all that you already are, and all that is possible because of each other:
We live in a world today that is so torn by many things. We live afraid in many facets of our lives. But marriage calls us to be people that look at the world and other people with a sense of newness. With a sense of a new beginning. As a married couple, you are teachers in this world. Teachers of love, teachers of patience, teachers of enthusiasm. Teachers of commitment.
So marriage should be an event that is constantly looking to something that is new, that is better, that is different. Marriage should be something that directs people to the future, and says: “Look at how we live together. Look at how we love each other. Look at how different we are because of each other.” That is a message that our world needs now more than ever.