Shaky and weepy after the Orlando shooting, I logged onto Facebook, where I saw a video taken the evening before my brother Andy and his husband Neal’s wedding, back in 2002. I’d never seen it before. A nice group of audiovisual archivists, XFR Collective, had transferred his useless old mini-DV footage to modern online video, and my brother had chosen this moment to share the link.
Back in 2002, Andy and Neal called their ceremony a Brit Ahava (Covenant of Love). The night before, they’d had a raucous party/talent show/dessert reception. First, their friend Joel Alter led us in havdalah, then their friends Gwynne and Katherine did a hilarious Commedia dell’arte jester number in Italian, then a bunch of folks performed, including my dad and mom, who sang a goofy version of “Sunrise, Sunset” with baby Josie’s teddy bears as props. In the video, my parents look absolutely overjoyed; they keep having giggle fits. (Their performance starts at around 21:28.)
My dad died in 2004. Watching him in action now, two years before he passed away, made me feel as though he were in the room with me. Video is different from pictures; it’s more alive and real. Dad looked so healthy! How had I forgotten how strong his Boston accent was? How thrilling it was to see once again his joy in performing! My dad loved to sing. He especially loved to sing “Sunrise, Sunset.” (He noted in the video that because I’d refused to let him sing “Sunrise, Sunset” at my wedding, he was going to leave all his money to Andy and Neal.)
It was an entirely different time. Most of the people in the room that night had never been to an LGBT commitment ritual of any sort. Gay marriage was not yet legal. Andy’s and Neal’s ceremony was meaningful, but it was kind of a Velveteen Rabbit real-to-them realness. At the time, the Jewish Theological Seminary didn’t allow LGBT Jews to be rabbis. And when my brother came out, my parents thought it meant they had to give up on certain Jewish parenting dreams.
They were wrong. Andy married a Jew—a doctor, no less. My dad was elated to be wrong; he practically vibrates with jubilation in the video. And Andy and Neal’s marriage, one that wasn’t “real” then, is now legal everywhere in this country. LGBT Americans have achieved unprecedented levels of equality and acceptance since 2002.
But there’s still so much sadness. There was Orlando. There’s still gay-bashing, hateful political and religious rhetoric, vicious performative lawmaking, and mass murder. There’s personal sorrow, too: My dad didn’t live to meet Andy and Neal’s daughter Shirley, or my Maxine. It’s very strange to watch this video, which churns up so many mixed emotions, from my vantage point in a world that feels halfway evolved, that has seen so much positive change and still has so very far to go. As my brother noted, “It feels right to release this into the world at such a dark moment for LGBT people, their families, and friends.” My dad would have been fighting on the front lines to make it a better world for his son and son-in-law, and I’m sad he’s not here to do it.
Related: A Love Supreme