Twelve Years On: a Toast to Kristina & Chad

Sometime Chad embarrasses me.
Strike that. Let me take ownership.
Sometimes I choose to get embarrassed, and Chad happens to be nearby.
Does that ever happen to you?

So, I’m talking with one of my young First-Year Seminar students, saying to her, Well, no, I don’t think Anne Lamott is a going to Hell even though she says swearwords—and suddenly here comes Chad, right up to me, slips his arm around my neck and grabs my nipple—yes, I said nipple, I have them, men have them—and right in front of her starts whispering, “Shhh, shhhhh, it’s okay, shhhhhh.”

My student, who has just re-read the Left Behind series, stands there feeling… conflicted. Me, too.

Like that true story of Chad? Here’s another.

Does Chad ever leave you *unusual* phone messages? “You have ‘14’ new messages. … ‘9th’ new message…”
“Yo yo, que pasa, what’s up where you been? Why I can’t find you? I’m ‘mon slap your side and so on.”
This as I’m hurrying to a candidate interview with Herma Williams and Mark Sargent—
“I’ll slap you all over your side etcetera you don’t call me. Why come you nevuh call me, Silly, I give you seven slappety-slaps about your face—”
“Oh—hi, Herma, be right in—”
“—already left you maybe 8 messages, you slappy-pappy-slapper—” *flute sound*
“Oh, hi, Provost Sargent; big interview, eh?—“ *loud flute* “Uh… can you give me a second?—”
*more flute* “You hear me play that flute and so on? I cuh play that all over your side, etcetera—”

I never know if he says anything important in these “MESSAGES” because I always delete them before I get there.

Once I got this email from Jud’s email address. Verbatim, it read:

MARK,
IT CAME TO MY ATTENTION THAT YOU HAVE BEEN HARASSING YOUNG WOMEN ON CAMPUS ABOUT THEIR UNDERPANTS. ONE GIRL CAME INTO MY OFFICE WITH TEARS IN HER EYES, HAVING BEEN, IN HER WORDS, “TORMENTED BY A FACULTY MEMBER.” I LIKE YOU MARK, AND I HAVE COME TO YOUR AID DURING A NUMBER OF MINI-SCANDALS WHICH HAVE SPROUTED WITH YOU SOMEHOW AT THE CENTER, BUT THIS CANNOT GO ON. PEOPLE AROUND HERE RESPECT YOU AS A CREATIVE DRAMATIST, AND YOU SHOULD NOT TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THAT TO LOOK AT WOMEN’S ANATOMY. WERE ARE ALL FACED WITH THE SAME CHALLENGES AND EACH DAY IS A NEW BEGINNING. I’M GIVING YOU ANOTHER CHANCE, BUNNY-BOY, BECAUSE – unmentionable unmentionable —
JUD

The next day I got a real email from the real Jud: Verbatim:
Mark, I just turned on my e-mail and found this. Last time I saw Chad he was sitting at my computer at home. I’m afraid that this is the result! Sorry! Jud

This is what makes me ask: What must Chad have been like as a 10-year old? A 6-year-old? I picture his parents late at night:

JUD: Jan, what is this being we have brought into the world?
JAN: I don’t know, Jud, but love him—love him.
JUD: Yes, but—I want to be the president, and I’m worried—
JAN: Jud!
JUD: The big cheese, Jan!—head honcho, the smack daddy of Gordon College!—and if that little guy—
JAN: Then you practice, Jud; practice being president—of this troubled little college we call Chad.
JUD: You’re right. Help me, Jan?

OK. But for all this, (borrowing from Gerard Manley Hopkins)—but for all this, Chad’s good nature is never spent. There lives in him the dearest, freshness, deep down things. True.

And if, at times, I choose to be embarrassed in the vicinity of Chad, I also choose to feel—no, let me be accurate—Chad makes me feel good. This same Chad makes me feel good about myself. Makes me feel good about life.

He lives fearlessly. I’ve almost never seen him hang back or cop out, and he takes you along into discomfort zones that you can survive. —Like, for me, some spans of time in Latin America, a place I wasn’t interested in and now love. When this happens, you emerge a bit better and a bit braver.

He loves beauty, and poetry, and excellence. He’s got a great eye, in so many quarters and fields, and he helps us see beauty better, I think. And he makes beauty, too, in paint, in film, in theater, in words. In gatherings of people.

Chad’s an unfailing, shameless promoter of his friends: he’ll brag about you right in your presence. He can’t help himself; he’s drawn to the stuff about you that’s special, that’s extra, and by affirming it as he does, he makes you a little bit more of whatever it is. He improves you. What a gift that is. Because of Chad I think Will Whittlesey is the funniest guy on earth, but do I know him?

And, get this: for a year, Chad called his girlfriend “Doctor” Harter. Who does that?

I mean He’s proud of you.

And he’s a loyal fellow, which is also a way of saying he loves deeply. Why does he make fun of your quirks?—because he loves. As long as I’ve known him he’s been this way. Here’s sort of what I mean: one morning he and Jud and I went fishing, and because of a malfunctioning winch, as we backed down the boat ramp Jud’s brand new boat leapt off its trailer, slammed onto the asphalt, and went grinding horribly down toward the water. Jud shouted, “Oh no, not again!” And later, after repairing the boat, of course Chad had to make fun of Jud a little. “Oh no, not again!”—but he couldn’t really do it. He said, “It’s so funny, and it’s so sad I want to cry.”

Well. He has that in him, a sweetness that makes you put up with certain shenanigans.

And now I come to the reason for the season: Kristina. In a way, today these qualities that I admire—Chad’s joie de vivre, his celebration of his friends, his eye for beauty and excellence, his sweet loyalty—are matched and consummated by Kristina. I mean, get this: since he met Kristina, Chad has actually become a nicer person. The things I love about him are denser, and the things I detest about him are in need of professional care.

But I misspoke: not “since he met Kristina.” I should have said, since he fell in love with Kristina, because the latter happened when the former did. O how many pictures, how many bragging emails did he send me? How many nagging phone messages did he leave ordering me to instantly come meet her?

Kristina, I know that Chad does love nothing in the world so much as you.

And here this toast falters when it should be strongest and truest, because it doesn’t convey—I can’t convey—how ebullient, how giddy and grateful and peaceful I am about you two. I tried to say this when I said, “We will” during the service, and I’ll try to say it again by eating and drinking and dancing now, and I’ll try say it more by loving my wife. It’s the same thing Jud & Jan, and Susan & Russell, and Susan & Bob want to say today; it’s something we’ll all almost say, with our hearts lifted and our glasses charged with champagne. Something just like hip-hip hooray.

So, friends: here’s to Kristina & Chad—the most excellent couple.

-True enough, true enough twelve years ago; true enough this very month, too.

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