Silence is a source of Great Strength. ~Lao Tzu
My wedding to my wife, Mr. Pei’s daughter, was held in Wainscott, a beautiful hamlet by the Atlantic Ocean. Wainscott is part of the Hamptons, but while having much the same power to allure and be home to celebrity and wealth, it has retained, or at least I believe, a grounded sense of self. In this regard, Wainscott, if I gave it more human characters, is gentle, tough, resilient, humble, generous, and altogether charming.
So why wouldn’t I want to get married in Wainscott? In addition to my stated love of the place, my roots are deep in its sandy soil. My grandparents settled there after immigrating from Ireland, and I spent every summer of my life (and now even more seasons) enjoying all it offers.
My wife and I had a small wedding. We were married in the Wainscott Chapel, a non-denominational community center founded in 1908. The Chapel is a jewel to look at and to look from, with a view across its street of acres of wild field and flower, a glistening freshwater pond, and visible over the tips of the dunes, the vast Atlantic.
It is the kind of setting that takes one’s breath away, inspires painters and filmmakers and writers, and draws many a couple to be married within its quaint walls.
Keeping with the intimate setting, we had perhaps 20 people watch us exchange vows.
My father served as my best man, and his lifelong friend (they hunted and fished together since young boys), a Wainscott native as well, and a judge, officiated. It was sweet and wonderful and I remember how proud my father was, and how sweet and shy my wife was, her beautiful hands in white gloves, shaking as she took mine and recited the required words.
What made the day extra special, was that Mr. Pei, his wife Mrs. Pei, and two other members of my wife’s family (sister and niece) made the trip from Taiwan for the nuptials. They were proud and happy for us, and their being there, coming so far, and being so genial and warm to all, made it truly memorable.
But what I remember as much as anything from those great few days, was that my father and Mr. Pei, each morning, both early risers, going together for rides in my dad’s battered but able jeep. My dad had a routine of getting the paper, looking at the beach, and so on, and he took Mr. Pei for the “tour.” While I never saw them leave, I did see them come back. Smiling. Laughing. Clearly comfortable with each other. Looking like age-old friends. This despite neither speaking the other person’s language (Mr. Pei knew enough English to get by, but my father’s attempt to bridge the barrier was to speak louder and slower).
Still, there was a sense that communication was not a problem between the two. And if anything, it looked to me that they connected on a level perhaps even deeper than words. I perceived a shared respect between them, admiration, and a mutual good feeling of the two families coming together through marriage.
A few years later, as I have written before, Mr. Pei joined my wife and me on a trip to Ireland. But after spending a week in the country, we ventured to England, staying in London for a few days before flying home.
Being in England brought up some mixed feelings on my part. My grandmother and grandfather had left Ireland in various levels of distress because of the “the Troubles” between the countries. And my father had shared with me many times how his father, in particular, had held anger about the situation. But my father also respected and admired England as a good partner to the United States over the years, and seemed to have reconciled and let go of any generational animosity toward the country.
I did not share all this with Mr. Pei, who similar to all our trips abroad, was delighted to be traveling and visiting such an iconic country and city. Much like he and my father on those jeep rides, we did most everything without talking directly. But I also felt comfortable with him and felt he was comfortable with me. It helped me relax, being with him, and helped me enjoy more the sights in the city.
We certainly made the most of our time, visiting Buckingham Palace, the Towers, going on the Wheel, eating copious amounts of fantastic Indian food, walking Hyde Park and seeing other beautiful gardens. As usual, Mr. Pei was up early, and he and my wife would go together, while I was still in bed, to the hotel’s eating area for breakfast. Their favorite was the croissants, which were small and light and so delicious. My wife said they would five or six each, they were so good.
After flying back home, Mr. Pei stayed with us for a few more weeks before heading back to Taiwan. As always, I missed him immediately, the steady calm he brought to our home, the will and drive to live each day to the utmost, the way he modeled gentleman behavior, strength, patience and joy for the simple things. He was a lot like my father that way, and when he would leave, I would understand even more why the two of them got along so seamlessly.
Not long ago, after Mr. Pei passed, my wife went back to Taiwan and visited with one of his friends. The friend told her how when Mr. Pei came back he would talk so proudly of his visits to other countries with his daughters (my wife’s sister, also living in the states, took Mr. Pei and Mrs. Pei on many trips as well). He would show pictures, explain in detail what he had seen, and tell stories about what he had experienced.
We never had that kind of talking relationship, but I wouldn’t trade what he had for that ever. I got more from his silence than any man I ever met. And for that, I’m eternally, and not so quietly, grateful.