My mom found a Vietnamese poem online for Will & May Elise’s wedding by Toan Tam Hoa which seemed so fitting with their love story. I translated it into English (taking some liberties with the original in the process). We read it together during the wedding service, my mother the original, and I, the translation.

I thought it might be worth recording onto this blog:


“Bản Tình Ca Cuộc Đời”
     “Life’s Love Song”

Poet: Toàn Tâm Hòa

Trong cuộc đời …ta viết bản tình ca
Có anh và em đời gọi là chồng vợ
Người ta bảo chắc là do duyên nợ
Mỗi đứa một miền sao cắt cớ gặp nhau!

Bản tình ca với đầy những sắc màu
Có vui sướng, bình yên, khổ đau, hạnh phúc
Ta đã đi qua …biết bao mùa lá trút
Cảm nhận đến từng giây phút yêu thương.

Nửa cuộc đời tóc ngấp nghé màu sương
Nhưng bản tình ca mãi vấn vương nồng ấm
Dòng thời gian… tình yêu càng sâu đậm
Có những nụ cười thấm đẫm … giấc mơ.

Vả mỗi ngày tặng nhau những vần thơ
Để biến bao giấc mơ trở thành hiện thực
Bản tình ca lung linh màu hạnh phúc
Hát bên đời với những khúc yêu thương.

Tuan’s translation:

Life’s love song

In this life… we will write a love song
You and I are in it… life will pronounce us husband and wife
Our family and friends say it was fated
that each of us, from far away places, would meet the other.

Our love song will be filled with colors
with hues of our laughter, with peace, with pain, with bliss
We will pass through many seasons of leaves falling
To sense and know the seconds and minutes of our love.

Halfway through this life, when our hair turns the color of bones
our song remains, woven in warmth
as time passes. Our love grows deeper
and our smiles colour our dreams.

And each day we shall give each other verses
and our dreams will be given shape and form
and our song deepens its joyous hues
we will sing it all our lives, on these occasions of love.

And I’ll also post here my best man’s toast to my brother, one of the most extraordinary person I’ve had the pleasure of seeing grown into the man he is today. I had to trim some of this in my reading because it was too long, but I figure I’d put some anecdotes I cut out, back in, for this written version:

My Toast

You all know me as Will’s brother, but you might not know that I was his guardian for a time when our mom had to move suddenly for work. These were Will’s adolescent years, when I got to know him at his most socially awkward.

So, May Elise, thank you. Thank you so much! As someone so talented and musical, thank you for taking Will on as a project – you’ll be marrying one of the most off key accapella singers in his seventh grade choir and acappella group. I’ll never get “Blue Skies” in Will’s breaking twelve year old voice out of my head from those days. In his defense, Will was also the most enthusiastic singer, so while I cringed, he would sing louder and snap his fingers more emphatically.

So the consolation, May Elise, is that I think you’re marrying someone whose enthusiasms so charmingly form the core of him. There’s no one so in love with computer coding, so keenly engaged in ballroom dancing (though perhaps he was motivated by a pretty partner), so deeply loyal to his friends, so interested even in things you’re not remotely interested in. And even if you don’t share his Tuesday night traditions of doing Final Fantasy online raids, I’m so glad you haven’t forsaken him for his unabashed geekiness, but strangely enough, love him for it. 

And in your gentle ways you both share this enthusiasm, this love of the world with the people around you. You make the spaces near you, already so lovely, more magical, and I echo both sets of parents here when I say you’ll be terrific parents someday.

I am not competitive by nature, but it does irk me to make this admission: Will would make a great teacher, if he wanted to… and that was supposed to be my field of expertise. Will offers such support to others in their own interests and endeavors; he is so incredibly patient and encouraging. If I wanted to, no matter how hard I try, I could never, ever be a tenth the programmer that he is.

May Elise, welcome to the Phans. Thank you for bringing music to our household. I knew you two were great right away, when I first met you and saw how lovely you were to Will during that trip on tall ships we all took together on that gorgeous New England fall day. I also knew you were a keeper when I heard you laughing hysterically, uncontrollably, at something I thought wasn’t really that funny. That’s perfect, I think… Will has so many not-so-funny jokes, bad puns, a bottomless treasury of comedic misfires. He’s found the perfect audience and participator. 😉

Will, I think I speak for mom and dad, and as your former guardian, when I say how proud we are of you, how glad we are to see all the love there is in this room from friends and family who care for you, and whom you’ve cared for, with whom you’ve shared your life. I’ve seen you take your very first steps, Will. Today I got to see you two dance, and you truly defied gravity – to allude to a musical you like. And now this is the most momentous step of your life, to love someone with your entire self, to be wholly devoted to her, and mom, dad, and I are so overjoyed and honored to be here to see you take it.

Finally, I think your story is a story of immigrants. When she was five, May Elise and her family came here from Norway, and Will, even though he was born in the US, was conceived in a refugee camp in the Philippines. So I often tell Will that he’s a refugee too. And like all those who know of exile, who have left our original nations behind, we immigrants know that the real, lasting homes we can build exist in the hearts of our friends and our loved ones; if they are with us, then we shall always be grounded, we shall always be home. I’d like to raise a toast then: To Will and May Elise, may you always find refuge, comfort and solace in each other’s company, may you always find in each other’s arms, homes to return to. To Will and May Elise.