Last night my brother Neal got married. This is a draft of the speech I gave, minus the "umms" and "hmmms" and the bit where I peed myself from the fright of public speaking.
Last night I was at a small get together for some of the Marie Claire and Neal's family, and it got me thinking about stories. Everyone has them, everyone tells them. When you meet someone new you rarely ever just tell them who you are, you tell them a story about who you are. Simply stated facts like "My name is Kelly, I'm 31 and I don't like onions" while true don't really tell anyone anything.
And so we have our stories to tell each other. Even if we don't consciously think of ourselves as story tellers, we are the authors of our own past every time we meet someone new. And I suppose that's simply human, just natural.
So then I got to thinking about the place that family, and more specifically brothers, have in the stories that we tell each other. Both the small personal ones, and the larger grander ones that everyone knows.
Brothers, it should be said, have never had an easy time of it. Most of you will probably know the story of Cain and Abel, a tale of the world's first brothers who fought over whether God was a vegan or whether the Almighty liked a bit of lamb in his tribute. As anyone here who is brother will probably guess, the fight escalated. Spoiler alert, it ends in murder. The first murder, as the story goes. I suppose it's natural that if murder was going to be brought into the world it would be between two brothers.
On behalf of older brothers everywhere I'd like to go on the record as saying while he probably didn't deserve to be murdered for it, Abel was being bit of a suck-up. It's a specialty of younger brothers the world over.
The stories we tell each other rarely have brothers.
We know that Grendel has a mother, but we never read anything about Beowulf's brother.
Indiana Jones finds the Holy Grail with his father, but he's an only child.
Luke has Leia, but she's a sister and between her kissing him at least once a movie and the fact that Luke seems to be a little too interested in seeing some action both fighting the Empire and with the Princess before they find out that they're actually related...
Well we don't count them.
We know nothing of James Bond's siblings.
The Doctor might have a series of ever changing companions, but he's the last Time Lord he certainly doesn't have his brother sitting in the Tardis telling him how he's doing everything the wrong way.
Kal-El was the only son of Jor-El and the last Kryptonian before he was Superman.
There are exceptions. Sherlock Holmes does have an older, and it should be said smarter, brother named Mycroft. There are the Hardy Boys, brothers who solve crimes together much to the chagrin of their father.
Yet those are among the few examples. Maybe it's just that in the stories there is no room for back story. And that's what family is, back story. They are how we got to where we are, how we became what we are today.
We are born dumb as a pile of bricks. We don't pop into the world ready to drive cars, read or operate heavy machinery. We learn as we go along, experimenting as we go. While we can take a course to learn how to drive and go to school to learn how to read we have to learn so much more before that. Things that nobody ever explicitly teaches us. Things we need to discover on our own.
And that's where family comes in, where our back story matters. As children we're like little social scientists and each day is a series of experiments on how to behave. Our family, well they're the subjects of those experiments. And so growing up I was Neal's lab rat, and he was mine. We discover the world through those we grow up with, and we discover who we are through studying one and another.
Or to stay on the course of the first metaphor, and not get lost in another one, we are like the authors of our own futures. Writing out story lines to see what works for us, to develop our own characters into the sort of people that others will want to find out about.
Neal wondered if people liked it when you bit them hard on the arm. The answer, it turned out, is no they don't. And so Neal, the person who bites other people, was written out.
Neal wondered if the new friends from university that I had brought home to play video games would want to see his testicles. They didn't the first time, and they didn't the sequel didn't do so well either.
Sometimes it takes us a little while to figure out what these our focus groups for these story lines are telling us.
But they're important, these experiments. Because from little social storytellers we become the heroes in our own stories. We are all someone's brother or sister, son or daughter. We all came from somewhere, we all have back stories.
We make our mistakes, tell our tales and learn our lessons, suck up to God or our parents, bit few people, flash a few more and become who we are now. And today we're here because two of the experiments of two little social scientists have lead us here. Neal and Marie Claire are both someone's brother or sister.
They're someone's son and someone's daughter daughter.
Because he was there, because of all that back story, there's nobody who can piss me off like my brother.
To this day he annoys me, frustrates me and angers me. But maybe that's how it needs to be. Maybe that's how these story tests work. Friends we can drift apart from, school mates or the neighborhood kids can all be written out of future plots.
But no matter how annoying it is to be stuck in a mini-Van in California listening to two hours of Neal singing a medley of popular songs, replacing all the lyrics with the words "greasy bums", I can't escape him.
There is no writing him out, he is there, a fixed character. A reoccurring guest star whose contract I can't cancel. Yet even if it is a story that I don't want to read, someone might. Marie Claire obviously does.
When I wanted nothing more than to hope out of the car and walk across LA on foot to escape the off-key singing, she joined right along. Clearly she's interested in the story and finds this Neal character fascinating.
And that's why we're here today, because while we can't always control our backstories we are the authors of the stories that haven't happened to us. We don't cast our family, our brothers and sister, our mothers and fathers, but we can pick who stars in our later adventures. With the story we've written with our family we go out into the world to find someone who finds our characters interesting, someone who wants to collaborate on new chapters and new tales.
Up until now everything has been backstory, but it's time for their adventure to start.
They've experimented on us for long enough, it's time for them to move their science laboratory into their own apartment and start discovering the world through each other. It's time for Neal to bite MC's arm hard, to see how she reacts, and to show his testicles to her friends.
And maybe, if the experiments go well, one day Marie Claire and Neal will have their own little authors running tests in their home. Their own sons and daughters who will have their own brothers and sisters.
Their own stories, and their own growing pains.
So please raise your glass to Marie Claire and Neal. Someone's sister, someone's brother, starting out as the heroes of their own story.