The Flowers

Sunday Letter | #208

Two good friends got married this week, and not to each other. I went to two separate weddings, one of them Tuesday evening, another Saturday afternoon, both here on Detroit’s Belle Isle. (Meanwhile, the rest of my family was in Shanghai for my cousin’s).

For R. and H.’s we were told to bring flowers we had picked. At the beginning of the ceremony we placed the flowers in a pile at the couple’s feet. For L. and D.’s we were each given, as party favors, a packet of wildflower seeds. With all the seeds I’ve been getting lately, it seems I’m being told to do more planting. Okay, okay.

A. is visiting from California, too. In between wedding activities on Saturday we went to the 35th-year remembrance for Vincent Chin. Chin was a Chinese American Detroiter who was beaten to death with a baseball bat by two white men outside a night club. It was a time when tensions around Japanese automakers was especially high, and one of the men allegedly said, mistaking Chin’s ethnicity, “It’s because of you little **ers that we’re out of work.” The rest of the story is all too familiar today: the men were acquitted of criminal charges, received what amounted to a slap on the wrist. One of the men, despite losing a separate million-dollar civil suit, hasn’t paid a dime.

The injustice galvanized the Asian American communities – not just here in Michigan but across the country. There are two enlightening (and infuriating) documentaries on the subject, the Oscar-nominated feature Who Killed Vincent Chin? and the more classroom-oriented Vincent Who?, whose director Curtis Chin was in attendance on Saturday and did a Q&A after a showing of the film. The day’s activities also included a visit to Vincent’s grave site, where the attendees, after words from a pastor, placed flowers in a pile by the gravestone.

Every wedding is a funeral. I said this jokingly to D.B. months ago, when we were talking about whether or not I was wearing too much black to another friend’s wedding. But I also meant it in a non-joking way. Every wedding, by marking a new beginning, also marks an ending. Just as every funeral marks the birth of something new. Whenever we honor a life, be it one that was lived or one that has yet to be lived, we also acknowledge accompanying ends. These ceremonies we have – these weddings, funerals, remembrances, parties – they help us move through the transitions. They open up a space for us to feel all the things, all at once, in the company of others.

This has been one of those weeks filled to the brim with life. Some of the new beginnings – the new births – I can’t yet see. But I have a feeling it has something to do with the flowers. I have a feeling the flowers already know.