Answer this question & your toast is written

The scene: my wedding day, twenty years ago. Two hundred people seated, ready to dig into filet of beef and pomme frites. It’s time for the pre-meal blessing, and our priest was nowhere to be found. The marriage was sealed, but the fancy french fries were getting cold!

Panicking a little, I shot my dad a look across the long banquet table. He immediately stood up, walked over to the microphone and launched.

“Thank you all for being here as we celebrate the union of two families….of two people who are deeply in love. We thank God for this beautiful moment. And we ask that Duncan and Katherine have a life full of love, not without their share of struggles, but with the strength and belief that together they can survive whatever challenges come their way. May they have the blessing of children and the joy of knowing their children’s children. And may You bless this food which we are about to enjoy.”

I tucked into my pommes frites, happy, proud and relieved.

I was raised by an eloquent storyteller, toast-maker and anecdotist. The kind of man who can stand up and give a beautiful toast with no warning. It’s so natural for him that he doesn’t even realize what a talent it is.

Then there’s my mom. Early in their marriage she was a runway model for department stores in Pittsburgh. She’s beautiful …inside and out. Yet, I didn’t learn the word ‘introvert’ until I was in college, and then I got it: she’s comfortable keeping her inner thoughts inside her head!

So it was a delightful surprise for us all when, on their 55th wedding anniversary, my mom stood up in front of the family and took us back to their early courtship…how they were “two kids with big dreams”… “dreams that came true for me”…and at the end she added, “You’ve still got it!” …a moment I will hold in my heart forever.


June is often the kick-off to a season of gatherings, speeches and acknowledgements: weddings, graduations, family reunions, anniversaries etc. I love it. I think it’s wonderful. I can’t imagine anything sweeter than families gathered to acknowledge their deep, lasting connections and accomplishments.

However, I appreciate that for some of us, thinking about even maybe being asked to speak takes all the fun out of an event and transforms you into self-doubting, nervous wrecks.

Let me make it easy for you: Simple words + profound thoughts.

Both my parents have turned 80 years old. We surprised my dad, and then my mom, with a heartfelt toast on each of their 80th birthdays.

We made it a simple yet profound exercise each time. We answered the prompt: What I love about you.

Imagine being surrounded by your kids, their spouses, and all your grandkids and hearing all the unique ways each person loves you and why. Powerful. That’s all I’m gonna say because I can’t write while I’m teary!

You too can do this, and possibly bring your room to tears. Just remember that when you need to get up and talk about someone, something or some moment, it doesn’t have to be perfect. It just needs to be heartfelt.

Answer the question: What do you love about this person?  Share one, two or three reasons you love them.

I come from two people who created a culture of love, who love to celebrate and cherish the moments we have together. I’ve witnessed one’s natural eloquence and the other’s long, quiet road to equally moving self-expression. I probably fall somewhere in the middle. I’m more like my mom than people think, because I can pull off self-expression with genuine charm like my dad.

My mom always said to love and to be loved are our greatest gifts in life. But, she added, it takes work to accomplish both. And sometimes it takes work to find the words to express how you feel.

If you [or someone you know] needs help communicating what someone means to you—Toasts, Wedding Vows, Officiating, Eulogies—I’m your gal.

The bottom line is I can’t wait to help you discover what you hold deep inside. It’s all about Love. Period. And letting that love be heard.

jessica bonin