To New Beginnings: The One Toast that Always Fits

Starting new chapters, big and small

My husband-to-be only knows one toast: “To new beginnings!” I hear them on the night we first meet. I am celebrating the end of my undergraduate honours thesis; he is my best friend’s cousin, tagging along. “To new beginnings!” he shouts, drunkenly sabering a bottle of champagne. Fitting words for the end of a degree and the start of the next chapter.

They return on our awkward first date, this time over cups of green tea and bowls of pho. My wisdom teeth have just come out. Our conversation is clumsy with Tylenol 3 and confusion over how to be with each other. He falls back to words that prove to be always near his lips: “To new beginnings…” We have no idea.

The words are there a year and a half later, when I learn that I have been plucked from the wait list and accepted to law school. I am crying into my pancakes. “Hey!” he says, trying to snap me out of it. “This is good news.” I am not sure that I can believe him, but appreciate the reminder. “To new beginnings,” he says, forcing his coffee cup against mine. A year later, I accept the summer position that secures our future. This time I say the words before he can find them.

When I turn thirty, we host an ambitious dinner for thirty people. Someone urges him to give a speech of welcome. Unprepared, he stumbles over a few matter-of-fact statements, “Well… It’s Kate’s birthday… We’re all here… Thanks for coming…” before reverting to his faithful, but always fitting, refrain: “To new beginnings!” By now, just a laugh and a shake of my head. A new decade before us, the words can’t be more true.

Then when his aunt, my best friend’s mom, is taken by breast cancer. A long day of mourning at her wake. We sit on either side of his cousin, my friend, in her parents’ big, empty house. As we finish the last bottle of wine, this time more somber, “To Terry… and new beginnings.” Not the beginning anyone was hoping for.

Lately, the words always seem to mark something monumental. They are said thoughtfully the night we decide we will get married. With a sigh and a side-glance after we sign the papers that plunge us into combined finances. With giggles and giddiness once we set a date and book a venue. At our surprise engagement party, I am the one who wells up with joy as I gaze at all the love around us and profess our thanks. Seven years in, I have become the short-speech-giver in our relationship. My eyes meet his across the room, and we exchange a knowing grin. With a wink, he adds, “To new beginnings!” The room erupts in cheers and clinking glasses at the perfect fit of the sentiment.

Of course, marriage means we can count on toasting a million BIG new beginnings together. New homes. Career changes. Every birthday and new year. Maybe children, and all the beginnings they will have. And the inevitable loss of those dear to us. But I am most excited that marriage lets us look forward to toasting countless quiet new beginnings together: The return of fiddleheads to Saturday farmers’ markets. Sunday dinners from pristine cookbooks. Fresh Monday-morning cups of coffee.

When I look ahead to our life together, I hear those words tossed in casually as we tuck into a meal. They are exclaimed enthusiastically when we hover over one of life’s turns. They are murmured with the fading of each season. Just as they have been, and just as they always will be. So in May, we will be married. I know that on that day, he will certainly give his only toast. I have tried to imagine the joy I will feel in that moment, hearing his comfortable chorus with all that love and symbolism around us. The world sees that beginning as one of the newest and biggest of them all.

I know, though, that that moment will just be a beginning. The next new beginning is perpetually right in front of us. And we will be ready to toast it, every time.

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