Monday, December 22, 2014

An Evolving Vessel of Their Mutual Love

 
This last Saturday (12/13) I officiated Elizabeth and Sergio's wedding ceremony at the Petroleum Club, in Dallas, Texas. Here are the personal remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Elizabeth and Sergio exemplify the new interconnected world we live in. This sentence, in which Elizabeth recounts their first interaction would not even have made sense just a decade ago:
"Sergio had “friended” me before we even got to Texas so I already saw his photos of his killer smile and sweet eyes and I was sold without knowing much else."

Now lest you think that this couple is shallow, listen to the rest of what she says:
"Lucky for me, behind the smile and sweet eyes was much, much more than I could ever ask for. I was excited!"

When they talk about each other, it is clear that Elizabeth and Sergio understand that they need to not only nurture and care for each other. They know they need to nurture and care for that third entity they are creating today, their marriage itself. They did not start thinking or talking about this today or yesterday either. As Sergio recounts, "Since the first day we started dating, we would talk about the future and what we would like it to be like." And they know that this future, the future of what they create here today, will be a bright one. As Elizabeth confidently predicts, "We have been through many personal journeys but I know this will be the greatest yet."

Now, you might legitimately ask, where does this confidence comes from? How do they know that this will be the greatest journey yet?

Well, that is the beauty of the special bond these two have forged. As Elizabeth says in one simple sentence about their journey thus far, "Our relationship grew, as did we." You see that simple sentence contains a deep deep truth, that Elizabeth and Sergio have followed, and continue to follow. Just, as we are not products of intelligent design, so it is with our relationships. Just as we evolve over the years, so must our relationships. Building a successful marriage is not about reaching this or any destination. It is about building the vessel of mutual love, that with each of us will continue to evolve.

That is the great truth Elizabeth and Sergio have lived by, since the day their relationship began. That is the truth they take with them into their next great adventure - this marriage. That is how they know that the best is yet to come.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Truly a We

This last Saturday (12/13) I officiated Deanna and Matt's wedding ceremony at the Scottish Rite Temple, in Dallas, Texas. Here are the personal remarks I shared with them and their guests:

From my first communication with Deanna, I was struck by her poise, grace and maturity, so much so, that I expected her to be chronologically older than I found her to be. Her deep thinking  and her approach to the world seem to bely her age. She is just ahead of the pack.

Similarly, impressive sideburns aside, when Matt describes his life experiences, having studied, fought for our country overseas and now continuing to serve in a civilian capacity in his work with FEMA, it seems puzzling how he has done all of those things already, as young as he really is.

Now what I say about Deanna and Matt may seem strange in light of the narrative some of us have adopted about their generation. Oh, those Millennials, no work ethic, no sense of responsibility, every one of them expects a participation trophy, blah blah blah, tsk tsk tsk.

Deanna and Matt are just such a fine example of the positive attributes that many in this interconnected new generation bring to the table. They really think about the "we", rather than just the "me me me".

Deanna and Matt are both tremendously reflective. They have engaged in deep thought about who they are, what they are, and what they believe in. They have not shied away from taking bold stances and making uncomfortable choices, when they were the right stances to take and the right decisions to make.

At the same time, they have been tremendously thoughtful and considerate of those around them, and of how their choices impact others. In other words they have shied away from a winner take all, zero sum game approach, and have preferred a win-win ethic. Not me, me, me, but we.

And you see that in the interactions they have with each other. These two are best friends and true partners. They work together as a team, and they complement each other's strengths and weaknesses. She is a little hard on herself, he is more of a "go with the flow" guy. She is passionate and compassionate, he is more reserved and calm. And these qualities mutually rub off on each of them. They are truly a we. And as a we, they continue to learn and laugh together, knowing that in loving each other and in the mutual love they share with you, their family and friends, they have found the ultimate happiness.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Following Their Own Path - An Alternative Reading of a Talmudic Story

This last Saturday evening (12/6), I officiated Jenny and Pablo's wedding ceremony at the St. Regis Hotel in Mexico City, Mexico. This was the fifth time I officiated a ceremony entirely in Spanish. Here are the personal remarks I shared, followed by an English translation of these remarks:

Pensando en Jenny y en Pablo, me acordé de un héroe literario, uno que pocos conocen, incluso en el mundo judío, llamado Elisha ben Avuyah. Como un anti-héroe en el Talmud, el libro de 60 volúmenes sobre la ley y las tradiciones, se habla de él en ocasiones como “Acher”, que en Hebreo significa “otro”, y que es probablemente una amalgama de dos personas reales.

¿Qué fue tan especial sobre Elisha? Bueno, fue uno de los estudiosos más importantes de la Torah en el periodo durante y después de la destrucción de Jerusalem en el Siglo primero. Esta era una época en que nadie sabía si el judaísmo sobreviviría. Las tradiciones judías, que llevamos hasta este mismo día, fueron fundadas durante este periodo crucial. Elisha fue parte de este esfuerzo y sus enseñanzas son el núcleo del Pensamiento Talmúdico, como fue entregado a su discípulo, el Rabino Meir.

Y después, rompió con la tradición. Las leyendas talmúdicas varían de nuevo en el por qué, y ya que no vieron este acto positivamente, son de dudoso valor en asegurar exactamente qué ocurrió. Lo que parece cierto, sin embargo, como muchas tradiciones talmúdicas admiten con disgusto, es que él no se separó de los estándares del cumplimiento judío que aún se estaban desarrollando, por tener alguna falla moral o de carácter.

Por el contrario, ellos admiten que rompió con la tradición, porque no estuvo de acuerdo con algunas de las bases filosóficas que los rabinos talmúdicos como él fueron poniendo como fundamentos del judaísmo futuro. También, quería buscar las respuestas que no podía hallar en lo que él consideró era un campo muy estrecho. Fue el mismo estudio intelectual en el que estaba comprometido, el que lo apartó. Tenía que ser honesto consigo mismo, expandir sus horizontes, y seguir sus propias conclusiones intelectuales.

Quizá es por esto que el Rabino Meir, para el asombro de otros rabinos, continuó estudiando con él. De hecho, el Talmud cuenta una fascinante historia sobre una sesión de estudio entre ambos personajes. Esta parte en especial es la que me hizo pensar en Jenny y en Pablo. La historia nos cuenta que un día de Shabat, Elisha estaba montando a caballo, (un acto prohibido para la tradición judía en este día de descanso), y el Rabino Meir caminaba a su lado, mientras analizaban las complejidades de un texto. Elisha hizo una pausa en un punto y le dijo al Rabino Meir que ha contado los pasos del caballo, y que ha llegado al límite en que uno puede caminar en Shabat, y que por esta razón el Rabino debería de regresar. El Rabino contestó con una expresión de muchas interpretaciones: “Regresa conmigo”. Con esto se refirió no solamente a que su gran maestro debería de regresar a la ciudad, sino que debería de regresar a la tradición judía.

La leyenda talmúdica termina con diferentes tipos de respuestas en las que Elisha se expresa con dificultad, supuestamente admitiendo que debería regresar pero que no puede. Claro, esta es la forma en la que los rabinos cuentan la historia. Yo, sin embargo, pienso que hay una razón legítima para leer el final de forma distinta.

La historia en el Talmud es contada desde el punto de vista del Rabino Meir. No obstante, volteemos la mirada y cambiemos de lentes, y pensemos la historia desde el punto de vista de Elisha. Primero que nada, ¿por qué ha decidido continuar sus estudios con su alumno, el Rabino Meir? Bueno, sería legítimo deducir que él ama estudiar. Ama la búsqueda intelectual por su propio bien, y por el conocimiento filosófico profundo que se encuentra en éste. Y no solamente se dedicó a estudiar por su cuenta, sino que siempre enseñó a su estudiante, el Rabino Meir, porque enseñar es la mejor forma para que uno mismo aprenda.

Pero hay más cosas aquí. Elisha se conecta más con los aspectos intelectuales y culturales de su tradición, y no tanto con los aspectos religiosos de ésta. Sin embargo, por el gran amor por su estudiante, es considerado y respetuoso con el hecho de que el Rabino Meir se relacione más con los aspectos religiosos de la fe.

No obstante, cuando el Rabino Meir le pide que regrese a la tradición, yo imagino a Elisha sonriéndole desde su caballo, con una sonrisa llena de un amor profundo y un significado todavía más profundo. Con esa sonrisa, le dice al Rabino Meir, que aunque lo quiere mucho, no puede regresar. Él ha establecido una visión del mundo sensata y firme, igual de legítima que la del Rabino Meir. Ellos ven el mundo de forma distinta. Él está tan cómodo en su perspectiva secular del mundo como el Rabino Meir está en su perspectiva religiosa del mundo. Y aún así, pueden coexistir. Incluso imagino a Elisha mirando desde su caballo 2000 años hacia el futuro, en donde un acercamiento a la vida como éste prevalece.

Ahora, ¿Por qué la historia de Jenny y Pablo me hizo pensar en la historia de Elisha?, bueno, en parte debería ya de ser obvio. Solamente hay que leer entre las líneas. ¡Jenny y Pablo les pueden enseñar cómo!

Pero elaboraré algunos puntos. Ellos dos se reunieron por el estudio, por una búsqueda intelectual, y por el amor al aprendizaje mismo. Y sé, que si las últimas 251 parejas que he casado los hubieran conocido, no se ofenderían si digo que ellos seguramente son la pareja más inteligente que he casado hasta ahora!

Sin embargo, los estudios y la inteligencia tienen un límite en el camino. Puedes vivir una vida bifurcada y muchos lo hacen, en donde conclusiones intelectuales se mantienen a raya. Este no es el caso de Jenny y Pablo. Ellos han sido valientes en sus estudios e intrépidos en su búsqueda intelectual, como Elisha, siendo intensamente honestos con ellos mismos, llevando estos estudios a sus conclusiones lógicas. Y, como Elisha, ven en el estudiar juntos y en la enseñanza, en muchos entornos diferentes, el mejor camino para alcanzar alturas intelectuales.

Pero la parte más importante es el resto de la historia. Jenny y Pablo rinden homenaje a sus respectivos trasfondos a través de esta misma ceremonia. No obstante, están en un camino ligeramente distinto, uno que se teje dentro de las tradiciones que reconocen. Este camino, arraigado en un intelecto profundo, fundado en un estudio cuidadoso, y comprometido en el pensamiento y discurso actuales, es el camino que abrazan hoy, y el camino que seguirán en el futuro, con el más profundo amor por todos ustedes, su familia y amigos.

English Translation:

Thinking about Jenny and Pablo, I was reminded of one of my personal literary heroes, one few people even in the Jewish world know of, Elisha ben Avuyah. As an anti-hero in the Talmud, the great 60 volume book of law and lore, he is sometimes referred to as "Acher", which is Hebrew for "Other", and is probably an amalgamation of two actual real life people.

What was so special about Elisha? Well, he was one of the giants of Torah scholarship in the period during and after the destruction of Jerusalem in the First Century. This was a time when no one knew if Judaism would survive. The traditions Judaism lives with to this very day were laid down during that crucial period. Elisha was part of this effort, and his teachings are at the core of Talmudic Thought, as handed down to his disciple, Rabbi Meir.

And then, he broke with tradition. The Talmudic legends once again vary as to why, and since they did not view this act positively, they are of dubious value in ascertaining exactly what happened. What seems clear, though, as most Talmudic traditions begrudgingly admit, is that he did not turn away from the still developing standards of Jewish observance, because he had any moral or character flaw.

On the contrary, they admit that he broke with tradition, because he disagreed with some of the philosophical underpinnings that the Talmudic Rabbis like him were laying as the foundation of future Judaism. He also wanted to look for the answers he could not find in what he found too narrow a field. It was the very intellectual study he was engaged in, that turned him away. He had to be honest with himself, widen his horizons, and follow his intellectual conclusions.

Perhaps because of this, Rabbi Meir, to the consternation of the other Rabbis, continued to study with him. In fact the Talmud recounts a fascinating story about such a study session. This study session specifically is the one that made me think of Jenny and Pablo. It tells us that one Sabbath Elisha was riding a horse (an act forbidden by Jewish tradition on the day of rest) and Rabbi Meir was walking beside him, as they dissected the intricacies of a text. Elisha paused at one point, and told Rabbi Meir that he had counted the horse's strides, and having reached the boundary beyond which one should not travel on the Sabbath, Rabbi Meir should turn back. Rabbi Meir responded, in a multi-layered expression, "Return with me." In this he meant that his great teacher should not only return to town, but return to living by the laws of the Jewish tradition.

Now, the Talmudic legends end with different types of mealy mouthed responses of Elisha, supposedly admitting that he should but cannot. Of course, that is the way Rabbis tell the story. I, however, think there is legitimate reason to read the end differently.

The story in the Talmud is, as to be expected, told from the point of view of Rabbi Meir. However, let's switch the lens, and think about this from the point of view of Elisha. First of all, why has he continued to study with his student, Rabbi Meir? Well, it would be legitimate to deduce that he loves to study. He loves the intellectual pursuit for its own sake, and for the deep philosophical inquiry involved with it. And he did not just engage in study on his own. He kept teaching his student, Rabbi Meir, because teaching is the best way for you yourself to learn.

There is more here, though. Elisha himself connects to the intellectual and cultural aspects of his tradition, and not so much the religious aspects of this tradition. However, due to his great love for his student, he is mindful and respectful of the fact that Rabbi Meir connects to those religious aspects of the faith.

However, when Rabbi Meir asks him to return to tradition, I imagine him smiling down him from atop the horse, with a smile full of deep love and deeper meaning. With that smile he tells Rabbi Meir that though he still greatly loves him, he can't really return. He has established a firm and well thought out world-view, as legitimate as Rabbi Meir's. They see the world differently. He is as comfortable in his secular world-view as Rabbi Meir is in his religious point of view, and they can co-exist. I even imagine Elisha looking from atop his horse 2000 years into the future, where such an approach to life prevails.

Now, why did Jenny and Pablo's story make me think of Elisha's story? Well, in part it should be obvious already. Just read between the lines. Jenny and Pablo can show you how!

However, allow me to elaborate on a few points. These two came together because of study, because of intellectual pursuit, because of learning for learning's sake. And, I know that if the previous 251 couples I have married knew them, they would not be offended by my saying that they are positively the smartest couple I have married so far!

However, smarts and studies will only take you so far. You can and many do live bifurcated lives, where intellectual conclusions are kept at bay. Not so with Jenny and Pablo. They have been brave in their studies and fearless in their intellectual pursuits, like Elisha remaining fiercely honest with themselves, following these studies to their logical conclusions. And, like Elisha, they see studying together and teaching, in many different settings, as the best way to reach intellectual heights.

But the most important part is the rest of the story. Jenny and Pablo pay homage to their respective backgrounds through this very ceremony. However, they are on a slightly different path, one weaved within the traditions they acknowledge. This path, rooted in deep intellect, founded on careful study, and engaged in ongoing thought and discourse, is the path they embrace today, and the path they will continue to follow tomorrow, with the deepest love for all of you, their family and friends.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Love Your Fellow as Yourself

Saturday evening (11/22) Pastor Steve Rode and I co-officiated Sara and Eric's wedding ceremony at the McNay Art Museum in San Antonio, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

I can't remember which program it was that I watched as a kid, where they tried to explain this abstract concept called "love". It was probably Mr. Rogers or Sesame Street, since my mom didn't really allow us to watch anything else, and there weren't that many channels anyway. And I think they were trying to explain not only what love was, but how you would know when you were in love. They explained that you would know you were in love, when you found that special someone, whose welfare, well-being and happiness were as or perhaps even more important than your own. Interestingly, the ancient rabbis of the Talmud reflect this idea too. They ask what commandment one fulfills in the act of marriage, in being married. They answer very simply, the commandment to love your fellow as yourself. If you think about it, a loving marriage is almost the only relationship where you can really observe that commandment to its fullest.

Now, what that children's show in the mid-seventies and the ancient rabbis leave out, and Sara and Eric (aka Berko) show through their love story is that there is one more tremendously important component to true love and a lasting relationship. What component is that, you might ask. Timing. It's all about timing.

You see, when you examine Sara and Berko's relationship, specifically from that first Spurs game they watched together, years of friendship in both Durham and NYC, separation when Sara moved to Dallas, and finally their reconnection at that Halloween party where Sara showed up in a full bald eagle costume, you see that this couple were always great friends, always had a unique relationship. You could argue that their closeness and feelings for each other matched the rabbinic definition we just discussed. However, there was one thing missing; it just wasn't the right time. And when it was, everything just fell into place. Isn't that extraordinary?

Now, you may ask, how do we know when it IS the right time? Well, we don't always. In a sense it might even be a tautology sometimes. However, that should be no cause to dismiss this very important idea that these two lovers teach us.

Sara and Eric, thank you for this really cool lesson. May you continue to share the deep love you share today, in every place and every time, life's journey may take you.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Do You Believe in Fairy Tales?

Sunday afternoon (10/19) I co-officiated Hallie and Leslie's wedding ceremony with Reverend Jim Woods at Hallie's parents' home in Indianola, Mississippi. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests: 

Do you believe in fairy tales? I do. Now fairy tales may involve some elements that are at least far-fetched. There are no fairies, no princes masquerading as amphibians, and no bean-stalks topped with extremely tall gentleman. Beyond that, some many fairy tales contain elements abhorrent to our modern sensibilities. However, these far-fetched and primitive elements do not mean that there are not profound truths in these tales. Indeed, they would not speak to us, if this was not so. They speak to our most basic emotions, and through the retelling of the story calm our fears, relieve our discomforts, and give us hope. 

That is probably why there is nothing better, nothing that soothes the soul more, nothing that inspires greater hope, than a fairy tale that actually comes true. 

That is why this couple, Hallie and Les, truly inspire me. Just imagine I was pitching you a story, perhaps for a movie or maybe a Broadway play (I now have a good connection there, trust me). Hear me out. 

It is about a girl from the Mississippi Delta and a boy from Brooklyn, New York. They don't immediately fall in love. After all, beyond their different upbringings, they are kind of opposites. However a few months in, and they become inseparable for seven years. We just fly through those years in the script, don't worry. Then she moves to another city, he goes to Haiti after the earthquake, and though they still have tremendous love for each other, circumstances cause them to drift apart, and they separate. 

Now, if this is done well on the stage or in the film, despite the fact that you know how many minutes are left, that the story must be far from over, you have bought into the finality of this. Much like Hallie and Leslie thought at the time, it's over. Each one will just move forward, if not totally move on, resigned to the fact that the other is just the one that got away. 

Not so fast. Even though they had consciously placed an ocean between them, in their hearts, they knew, deep down, that this was not the end of the story. They just needed that one crazy far-fetched act, something like, and I'm just spit-balling here, the guy driving 24 hours from Brooklyn to the Mississippi Delta, to rekindle those embers, to get this story back on track. In the play or film, as Leslie is driving, you would hear what I heard in my head writing this. It's an old song from the 80s: "You never know what you've got till it's gone. If I ever catch up with you, I'm gonna love you for the rest of my life. All I need is a miracle, all I need is you." Then they meet again, and it's like they were never apart. They truly do live happily ever after. 

Now, I don't know if the play would end there, or if they would end it with this ceremony. (If the latter, I hope someone really handsome plays me!) Regardless, I already have the words for the final scene. It would be a voice over of something Hallie wrote a few days ago, that really describes their mutual feelings: "I've lived without him, and I can exist just fine, but life just isn't the same when he's not a part of it... So rather than spend the rest of my life denying what makes me happy and whole, I choose love, happiness and to forgive us."

Saturday, October 18, 2014

It's Not about You

Yesterday (10/17) I co-officiated Mark and Katie’s wedding ceremony with Father Chris Weber at the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Willoughby, Ohio.

Interestingly this very idea resonates with Katie and Mark in the way they live their lives. They are genuinely curious individuals, who try to learn from everyone they interact with, and every situation they encounter. So I wondered to myself, what is it that has allowed them to acquire this vital trait. Could it be the fact that between them they have more degrees than a thermometer? Perhaps. Then again, we all know people who are very well educated in the conventional sense of the word, while also making it clear that, in their eyes, they have nothing left to learn...

So, I continued to wonder, and I found a more promising clue. Maybe it was that they both grew up in households with proud religious and cultural traditions. Katie grew up in the Catholic tradition, and Mark, in an interfaith household, as Mark’s dad, Howard, is Jewish and his mom, Mary, is Lutheran. Perhaps. Then again, there are people that are very much connected to their traditions, and still, sometimes even because of that very fact, seem to have all the answers...
Then I hit on it. It was a different aspect of their traditions, specifically how their parents raised them in those traditions. As you have probably noticed by now, these two grew up in very different religious backgrounds. The actual approach to religion itself was different in each household. However, there is one common thing that really stands out in how they discuss their families' and their own differing approaches to religion. Both of them say that when you get down to brass tacks, what is really important is to be good to other people.
Now, when you really and truly believe that that is the only absolute, you understand probably the most important foundational tenet of the good life: It's not about you.
Now, once you get that, the logical extension is that you probably don't have all the answers. The logical extension of that is that if you pay attention, you might just learn something.
This is why Mark will tell you that from his first interaction with Katie, he felt this incredible ease. She was easy to talk to, she made him immediately comfortable. Without even mentioning this concept, he got it: she did not think it was all about her. Katie knew the same about Mark. She had a cool telling question she had asked a number of guys: What is your favorite song? Other guys were happy to tell her, but that was it. Mark told her, and then asked her what her favorite song was. It was immediately clear to her. This guy knows, that it is not all about him.
You see the cool thing about being raised with the understanding that it's not all about you, and really internalizing it, is that counter intuitively it ends up influencing YOU more than anyone else. It makes YOU a better person, and a better partner. When you find a partner that shares this perspective, differences matter a whole lot less, because on this one issue, from which most values derive, you are on the same page.
Katie shared with me that her close friend, Lil, for whom she cared in her last years of life, told her that there was a guy out there who was just for her, a match made in heaven, if you will. Katie is confident that Lil is looking down right now, and giving her the thumbs up. This actually echoes a concept we Jews call Beshert, which like many Yiddish words almost resists simple translation, with its multilayered richness. It usually refers to a couple, and means made for each other, though it can also mean general good fortune.
Many times it is understood as something mystical, but maybe it is, and Lil's promise to Katie too, have a more conventional explanation. Our parents, and then we ourselves, make us who we are. If you are raised with and continue to abide by the simple understanding that it's not about you, than in essence, just like Katie and Mark, well, you are truly made for each other. Now, that is truly Beshert...

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Lucky I’m in Love with My Best Friend

Yesterday (10/11) I officiated Marcie and Matt’s wedding ceremony at Waldorf Astoria, in Orlando, Florida. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

We are interesting organisms, us human beings. We look out at the world around us with a jaundiced view. We see patterns, where there are none. We see plans, when it is the unplanned that beckons. We see answers, where questions reign supreme.
Why do we do this? Richard Dawkins surmises that it is because we are the descendants of the humanoids who saw the tornado, the hurricane, the storm, vested them with agency, and ran. The humanoids who did not, just thought about it, and engaged in deeper analysis, did not run, and so were wiped out. So we really need to fight our evolutionary tendency, just to help us face reality. However, if we are able to do so, this can lead to greater appreciation and gratitude, for the good fortune we have found.
So, even though Marcie says that not meeting her beloved, "almost seems like an impossible outcome because I can’t comprehend a circumstance where I wouldn’t be spending my life with Matt," this does not mean she imbues anyone with agency for having made that happen. In fact,  that would have cheapened it for her. Instead she sees in her life, "an overarching theme... of luck, gratitude and appreciation," of her good fortune.
Matt too talks about how lucky we are to be here, that that is to be cherished, and that that is what makes life magical.  As Matt reminds us, "If I rewound the clock 100 million years ago and told you what would have to happen for you to be standing here today, you’d say that would be impossible." "Based on that alone," Matt reminds us, "we should wake up every day feeling very special, insanely fortunate, and immensely appreciative that we get to take part in another day of life.  How incredibly lucky we are to simply be breathing and can experience love, joy, happiness, fulfillment, and even the negative feelings that make us appreciate the good ones."
And arguably, the greatest fulfillment and joy you can feel, is in Matt's words, "walking down the aisle about to marry your best friend," not because someone pre-ordained it, but because you have hit the jackpot. Indeed, in Marcie's words, living life, "as fully as possible means so much more if you get LUCKY enough to have your best friend by your side to share it all with."
Marcie and Matt, what we wish for you, is that as the years go by, and your love evolves, you continue to feel as fortunate as you do today, because in the words of the song by Jason Mraz, each of you can say, "Lucky, I'm in love with my best friend."

I Know How Lucky I Am to Have You

Yesterday (10/10) I officiated Mariella and Josh’s wedding ceremony at Maison Dupuy, in New Orleans, Louisiana. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

One of the first things Mariella and Josh told me was that they wanted their wedding to be personalized and meaningful, and a celebration of them, their family and friends coming together. That is fairly standard. However, they also wanted their ceremony to have a particular emphasis on books and nature as the things that brought them together, and still play a central role in in their togetherness. Not that standard, however, anyone who knows Mariella and Josh, will not be surprised by this at all.
Not surprisingly, how they met is both connected to books and reads like a short story. Here is how Mariella recounts it: “Josh and I met on the blue line train in Chicago. I have been riding this train for 15 years. One day this cute guy sits next to me on the train. I am usually focused on my book, and don't pay attention to my surroundings. But he sits next to me and pulls out a book, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, which is this amazing historical fantasy about a magician and his protégé, where magic is actually a line of work. It is one of my favorite books, and I was so surprised that this guy in a suit would pull it out. Not exactly the Wall Street Journal. So I just casually said, "That is a really good book, you're going to like it," and… then we talked about Neil Gaiman, whose book I was reading, sort of the same genre, and we started talking about our favorite books. And then he let it drop that he was a writer, and I am too. It was kismet…” As Josh says, in what almost reads like the sub heading of a review of the story: “How’s that for the beginning of a love story?”
Though, “kismet” a Turkish word, derived from the Arabic word “qisma”, which means lot, is taken to mean fate or something preordained, Mariella probably used the word colloquially, not literally. Even so, listen to Josh, a staunch rationalist: “I can’t account exactly for why I was where I was when I met Mariella.” Mysterious, huh?
This reminded me of one of the most beautiful book passages I know in a book about Mariella and Josh’s other shared love, nature, “Unweaving the Rainbow”, by Richard Dawkins. In a scientific tome, you do not expect to find words that read like poetry, but here you are. Mariella and Josh marvel at the good fortune of them, against great statistical odds of the Chicago Transit Authority, having met. Dawkins marvels at each one of us even coming into existence against much greater odds:  “The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively outnumbers the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here. We privileged few, who won the lottery of birth against all odds…”
So, when you incorporate what Dawkins says and what Mariella and Josh say, you arrive at a fascinating idea: When you find that one person that you love, that one person, who in our groom’s words gives you, “woozy magic of the stomach and heart,” and who you also know as our bride says, will love you more than anyone else ever could – then you have won. Having won Dawkins’ lottery of nature, you have now won a second lottery – the lottery of the heart.
That can allow you to embody the words of a song that I was reminded of, when I thought about the wonderful relationship Mariella and Josh have, the story of how they met, and how lucky they are to have each other. Beautiful, by Jim Brickman, alludes, once again, to nature and literature, but also to beauty and love:
From the moment I saw you,
From the moment I looked into your eyes.
There was something about you I knew.
That you were once in a lifetime
A treasure near impossible to find.
I know how lucky I am to have you.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Answer the Call of the Moment

This last weekend I officiated Rachel and Eric’s wedding ceremony at the Ritz Carlton in Dallas, Texas. Rachel and Eric’s families have known each other since before Rachel was born, and here they were many years later marrying. How cool is that? Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests: 

One of the first things I always ask every couple is how they met. Most couples have met two or three years before, others met in college, some are high school sweethearts. Every now and then I come across the couple that met in one of those settings, lost contact, and they reconnect years later. Imagine my surprise when Rachel and Eric told me that essentially they have known each other since Rachel was born, and that their families have been close from before Rachel was born.
Of course, then I had to ask, and I have a feeling others have wondered this too, what happened, what changed back in 2009? They acknowledge this when Rachel says: "It's funny to go back and look at pictures and videos from my early childhood and see Eric and me together. Who knew that many years later we would be getting married?!" This question becomes especially acute, when you hear them each describe the depth of love and mutual admiration this couple has. Let me give you a taste of that:
 
Here is what Rachel says about Eric:
"Eric treats his mom like (so well)... He is handy around the house... He is, hands down, the nicest person I have ever met; he doesn't have a bad thing to say about anyone. He is annoyingly athletic, handsome, optimistic, intelligent, driven, supportive, patient, calm, and everything I've ever wanted in a future husband. He makes me a better person.
Eric gushes about Rachel too, and says:
“In a lot of ways, she is the opposite of me, and that’s what I really like about her. She is outgoing, where I am more reserved. She is more creative, where I am more numbers oriented... She seems to even me out. She is an extremely caring individual and will do anything for the people she loves. On top of this all, she is incredibly smart and challenges me to think about things in different ways."
So what is it? What changed? What caused them to suddenly see each other in a different light? What is the cause of such epiphany moments? Now, being a rabbi and all, you probably expect me to have some type of brilliant answer. Frankly, what can I say, I don't. I don't know that anyone does.
The more important question though, is not why, but what. What do you do when you have that epiphany moment? What do you do when you can see something you couldn’t see before, something that has the potential to be wonderful? This is an important question, since I think that many of us, if we are honest, have more epiphany moments in life, than we care to admit even to ourselves. And the fact is that most of the time, we don’t act on them, because epiphany moments can be scary. Change – even good change, even wonderful change – can be very uncomfortable, and the warm comfort of inertia, is extremely tempting.
The lesson that Rachel and Eric teach us with their story is that it need not be so. You CAN overcome that fear, you CAN follow your heart, you CAN answer the call of the moment, and dare to venture out on a new path. So next time you hesitate, next time you are tempted by the wet blanket of inertia, think about that. Think about Rachel and Eric's example, and live your dreams.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

A Wonderful Life Together


Yesterday (9/27) I officiated Allison and Ryan's wedding ceremony, at Castle Hill in Newport, Rhode Island. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Not to emphasize stereotypes too much, but typically you expect the really mushy stuff from the bride. Ryan shows us it need not be so. Manliness need not prevent you from an honest and thorough description of your mutual love:

"Everything about Allison is pure. From the way she says hello to the way she says goodbye, Allison is Allison and not anyone else. She carries herself with such grace... Those of us who are lucky to be around her are comforted by her amazingly beautiful smile that without fail results in... reciprocation... She has a way of shining light on your day no matter if it’s been good or bad.... For the first in my life I can honestly say that I know how it feels to be loved. I say time and time again, I am the luckiest man in the world."

Now, this type of deep love is the foundation for a wonderful marriage. How do you build on that foundation? Allison tells us how:

 "We are two people who will do anything it takes to make our marriage succeed, and we are not naïve about the complications and heartache that touch even the most pristine of marriages. We are ready, we are eager, and we are committed to joining ourselves for our time on this earth. Ryan is the best decision I will ever make."

So, Allison tells us, the best way to build a successful marriage is to recognize your deep love as an essential foundation, but not sufficient in and of itself. You have to be ready, eager and committed to continuing to do the work necessary and never stop doing it. When you do, you can like Ryan, clearly say, "I know we are going to have a wonderful life together. I know our family will be secure and whole. I know all of this because I know Allison."

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Those Moments Have Made Us Who We Are

Yesterday (9/20) I co-officiated Stacy and Jean-Simon's English-French wedding ceremony with Jean-Simon's sister, Virginie, at Le Windsor, in Montreal, Quebec. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Stacy and Jean-Simon are a special couple. They each have strong personalities, without a shred of arrogance. You know where you stand with them. They mean what they say, and they say what they mean. You know these are the type of people you can count on. At the same time, they don't make a big deal of themselves. As individuals and as a couple they exude a fine blend of humility and quiet confidence.

They come from entirely different backgrounds, she, a Jewish English girl from the West Island, he, a Catholic French boy from the Town of Mount Royal. Yet, spend just a few moments with both of them, and accents aside, you would never know it. Their love for each other is just so deep, that it makes you feel all warm inside. They show you how powerful a force love can truly be.

What is it that allows them to all of exhibit these qualities, and share such a deep love. Well, with Stacy and Jean-Simon, you need not guess. They will tell you. They have not just let life pass them by. Indeed, as individuals and as a couple, they have taken the time to think about and reflect on experiences they have had in life. They have carefully examined these experiences, some negative and some positive, and they have found meaning in them. As Stacy says, "I believe that when good and bad things happen, it’s for a reason. We may not know right away, but in the long run, you realize why things happen the way they do."

Stacy and Jean-Simon have not only sought to give meaning to these experiences. They have sought to harness that meaning to improve their individual lives, to grow together as a couple, and to strengthen their relationship. As Jean-Simon says, "These moments (good or bad) have made us who we are and have solidified the love we have for one another."

Stacy and Jean-Simon, may you continue to be blessed with a rich life, full of meaning, and may you and your love grow only stronger, with the experiences you harness to enhance it.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Just a Little Purer

Friday night (9/12) I officiated Heather and Scott's wedding ceremony at the Dallas Arboretum in Dallas, Texas. They have been together since high school. They married 17 years to the day since their relationship began. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

In all things in life we learn by trial and error. Our love lives are no exception. In this precious area of life, that has inspired great works of poetry and music, while also launching a thousand ships, we stumble and get up again, we err and circle back, hopefully learning in the process, some of us quicker and others slower.

Still, while we advance and hopefully evolve, there is that sweetness of the first kiss, the innocence of the first hand we hold, the warmth of the first cheek we graze with a fingertip, that never goes away, and that we seek with greater knowledge and experience to recreate. Alas, it is lost with that person whom we shared them with.

Not so for Heather and Scott. , and still cherish in each other those very children they once were. They are that rare couple, that have loved each other in the innocence of youth, have allowed each other the room to evolve and grow, and have done it together.

They can still recreate that long gone world of the past, THAT September 12th, not of the 2014, but of 1997. And so, the shared life they have created together is just a little sweeter, just a little purer, just a little more authentic than many can enjoy. In that sense they are truly blessed.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Building Their Relationship Together

Saturday evening (9/6) Father Joe Townsend and I co-officiated Meghann and Howard's wedding ceremony at the Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:  

Howard vividly tells a fascinating story about Meghann: “Meghann is very pure of heart, she truly cares about other people and their welfare. One time we were in the airport waiting for a flight. Quite some distance away from us, a teenager had fallen asleep on one of the chairs in the waiting area and they had just announced last call for that gate. Meghann asked me if I thought that he was about to miss his flight. I replied that we don't even know if he is supposed to get on that particular flight. She said we had to wake him up just in case. At her urging, I shook him (quite persistently) until he finally awoke and we asked if the nearby gate was indeed for his flight. He immediately jumped to his feet and made a run for it, barely making it and without any time to even thank us. This was a perfect stranger, that no one even thought to notice, and Meghann was concerned that he might miss his flight (if it even was his flight). Meghann had nothing to gain by helping him out; it was simply the right thing to do. I like to think that had I noticed him sleeping first, I would've done the same thing. But in an airport full of people, Meghann was the only one who thought to notice him.”

Now, we can get into the depth of that story in a moment, but what really struck me about this story is how it reminded me of another old story. The Bible tells us that Abraham sends his chief servant to his native land to find a wife for his son. Being an astute executive, Abraham does not tell his servant how to find the right woman, rather having chosen the right man for the job, he lets him do it. So, how does the servant decide which woman is the right one? Waiting at the well, he decided he will ask one of the young women drawing water for a small drink, and that the one who volunteers to give him, all his men and his camels water, will be the right choice for Isaac. Indeed, once Rebecca arrives, she does just that, and is chosen as Isaac’s new wife.

Now, obviously, the point of this story is not to take this literally, nor to say that this happened in the way described, or even happened at all. The point of this story, like most stories in the Bible, is to teach an important lesson. The pinnacle of human behavior is to do the right thing, because it is right, and to help those in need, with no ulterior motive aside from the recognition that that is the right thing to do. When the servant sees that, as Howard might put it regarding Meghann, that, Rebecca is, “very pure of heart, [that] she truly cares about other people and their welfare,” he realizes that he has found the right woman.

Now, in the Bible or more commonly in fairy tales, that is all you need, and everyone lives happily ever after. In fact, Hollywood seems to glorify an approach where matters of the heart all just come naturally, and only if they do are they “real”. However, in real life, even when the “candidate” is “marriage material”, you need something else. You need to know that the relationship itself, like all things in life, demands hard work, and you need to put in the time and the effort to do that work. That is something that Meghann and Howard have never shied away from.

This is what Meghann reminds us of: “Howard and I have dated for several years, and truly enjoy spending time together. We have seen many wonderful times and have supported each other through the difficult ones. The Catholic Church encourages engaged couples to attend pre cana classes as part of the marriage preparation. These classes only reinforced that we are both entering into married life eyes wide open… Despite different religions and backgrounds, we both have very similar views and beliefs. Howard makes me laugh, is very smart and curious about the world and is very supportive and reliable. He loves me for who I am despite my faults, which I appreciate so much… I always want to hang out with him and I consider him my best friend.”

And Howard tells us that in building their relationship together, they passed the greatest of all tests. This is important to all married couples, so listen up: “We have even built IKEA furniture together (several pieces) and survived it. Apparently, there is a saying in Sweden that says any couple that can survive building IKEA furniture together can survive a lifetime. We are best friends, companions and we know we want to be together. We look forward to what the future holds for us as a team.”

Got That Happiness Thing "Made"

Friday afternoon (9/5) I officiated Sandy and Chris' wedding ceremony at their home in Richmond Heights, Ohio. It was a lot of fun seeing their family again, having officiated Sandy's brother Jon's wedding ceremony to Jenny, a few years ago in New Orleans, Louisiana. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:
 
Ask Chris to tell you one thing about Sandy, and he will use a sentence that is mutually true: "I have never been with someone that makes me as happy as Sandy does."
 
The very founding document of our nation prominently mentions the pursuit of happiness, third only to life and liberty, as one of reasons for those Englishmen throwing off the yoke of their monarch. This stands out even more, if you know that they were borrowing this phrase from Locke, who had spoken of life, liberty and property, not the pursuit of happiness.
Now, if our forebears imbued our nation with legitimacy, insofar, as it could enable us to pursue happiness, the question that follows should be more than obvious: How does one do just that, achieve happiness. I believe that Sandy and Chris in the way they have lived their lives, help us understand.
 
First, you need to be patient. We live in a world where speed is prized. Why is my burger ready only after an agonizing 60 seconds? Why does my iPhone take an unbearable 10 seconds to retrieve that email? Can you believe that it took Amazon a full 24 hours to get me that new flatscreen TV? Sandy and Chris understand that "good" and "fast" aren't all that often equal. Just look at what happened when Chris asked Sandy out the first time, and she explained that the timing was just not right. He didn't give up. All he said was, "I will wait for you. I am not going anywhere." It took about a year, she said yes, and you know the rest...

Second, you need to work at it, but not make a big deal out of yourself. Just do what needs to be done. The Talmud says that the Patriarch, Abraham, would "talk little and do much." Basic business and customer service practice similarly tells us to, "underpromise and overdeliver." Both Sandy and Chris' family and friends can tell you how they embody this quality in their lives as individuals and as a couple. 
 
Third, and this is closely connected to the other two, you need to let go of your apprehensions, be inspired, relish your life experiences, and learn from them and from each other. Indeed, Sandy tells us that Chris has turned around all her, "'I'm never going to's'", and also says, "I have never believed in anyone more than I believe in Chris,” whom she fondly calls her “Frank Sinatra”. Chris, in turn says, "She inspires me to be a better man. At this point I could not be without her. She is the yin to my yang, the peanut butter to my jelly, and the twinkle to my star."
 
So, folks, just remember, have patience, get the job quietly done, let go of your apprehensions, be inspired, relish your life experiences, and learn from them and from each other. Then you've got that happiness thing "made..."

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Learn from Each Other and Live in the Moment


Saturday evening (8/16) I officiated Jordan and Jesse's wedding ceremony at Aldredge House in Dallas, Texas. Here are the personal remarks I shared with them and their guests:

 

Jordan and Jesse are two individuals, who are both deep and thoughtful, and at the same time fun-loving and light-hearted. They started off as close friends, and held on to that aspect of their relationship, even after they started dating. They have great senses of humor, and like we comfortably can do with our truly close friends, they are not afraid of laughing at themselves, at and with each other.

 

They each have thought deeply about their relationships with their spiritual and cultural traditions, and have sought to learn about each other's. This has enabled them to begin authentically forming their own new family traditions.

 

There are though, two very important aspects of every successful relationship, in which they truly excel. First, they each recognize that in a loving relationship, if you open yourself up to it, the other person can help you become a better person. Second, and closely related to this, if you allow for this, your daily, even mundane, experiences can and do become elevated through a relationship of true love.

 

So, Jordan and Jesse, keep it up! Stay serious, but not too serious, stay friends, learn from each other, and live in the moment. If you continue to that, you've got it made.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

I Have Found the One Whom My Soul Loves

   
Yesterday, Saturday 8/9, Reverend John Williamson and I co-officiated Andi and Scott's wedding ceremony at Union Station in Dallas, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:
 
Andi and Scott's story of how they came to stand before us here today reminds us how much luck can play a part in pivotal moments of our lives. They both describe their first encounter so beautifully. I know you will be shocked that the bride's description is a little more romantic...
"I looked over and saw... He had the brightest eyes and I was done at that moment. I literally had music pop into my head (The Blowers Daughter, the line "I can't take my eyes off of you")... I couldn't stop looking over and just thought "There you are. I finally found you." So as silly as I thought the concept was, I knew the second I saw him - love at first sight. I didn't want to let him get away, and he wasn't coming over to me, so I got up my courage, marched up to him, and... we started talking. I ate all of his food, he stayed with me when his friends left, and at the end of the night, I told him he should ask me for my phone number. Luckily he did and he drove me to the car. I got out, and on an impulse, jumped back in and laid a big smooch on him, then ran away!"
 
What does this story tell us? First, it tells us that even if like these two, you have more degrees than a thermometer in matters of the heart (romantic, not cardiac...) you just have to go with your gut.
 
Second, it reminds us that though we think we, of the digital age, can control much of our lives, much of what happens to us is more attributable to luck, karma, or faith, take your pick.
 
Third, and perhaps most important, the last two points of going with your gut, and luck being paramount, should humble us, but NOT stunt our choices and our faith in the future. If we consciously live in the present, embrace our circumstances, and do our part, we may not control our fate or specific outcomes, but we can control our destinies and alter the course of our lives. If we do, we can say like Andi and Scott, in the words of the Song of Songs, and in more than one way, "Matzati et she'ahavah nafshi. I have found the one whom my soul loves."

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Whole Tablets and Broken Tablets

 
Yesterday, Saturday 7/12, I officiated Sharon and Judy's wedding at the Sheraton Albuquerque Uptown in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

The Bible tells us that after Moses received the Ten Commandments, he saw the people worshipping the Golden Calf, and broke the tablets. Now, being a sensible Jew, Moses had taken out a full warranty, so after paying a fifty shekel deductible, God gave him a new set of tablets. Eventually, Moses is instructed to put both sets of tablets in the Ark of the Covenant, so Indiana Jones could rescue it from the Nazis... (Not really.)

Now, the Rabbis of the Talmud learn a really cool lesson from this. "Be careful to respect a Torah scholar, who has forgotten his learning, since the whole tablets AND the broken tablets, both rest in the Ark." So, the Rabbis are afraid that since the Torah scholar has dementia, people might not accord him the respect he is due. They say, no, you must respect him. He is like the broken tablets. They too rest in the holy Ark.

I was reminded of this idea, when I reflected on what Sharon and Judy say about each other. They each are very particular about respecting those, who because of age or ability, are sometimes themselves forgotten. Listen to Sharon: "Judy demonstrated such deep compassion for the elderly people in our neighborhood. It was not uncommon, on a hot Summer’s day, for her to offer a ride home to some poor little elderly woman, or man, trudging along in the heat, trying to get groceries home before they spoiled. Our own shopping trips seldom ended without helping a senior neighbor to get home a little sooner and a little cooler. Not only did I love her for her sensitivity, I admired and respected her character and integrity. We also discovered that we both love animals and the natural beauty of our world and fervently believe that both should be protected and preserved."

Judy insists that if anyone is to be praised in this regard, it is Sharon: "Sharon cared and treasured all. Even if it was a mouse that we just could not allow to roam free in the house, she buried it as she does all of the Lord’s creatures and offered a blessing. When I think of these times, I fill with tears of love. This was carried into her work with her patients. As a speech language pathologist, she worked exclusively with older patients. She was dedicated to helping them find ways to communicate. I still hear her saying, 'I know that she is in there. I have to find a way to get in there and help her get out.'"

There is however another broader understanding of this idea of the whole tablets and the broken tablets both being important, that Sharon and Judy talk about and embody. They both understand deeply as individuals and as a couple, that life is a journey, where there are whole tablets and broken tablets along the way, and that true love is about treasuring both. As Sharon says: Thirty years ago, we met as two individuals.... each bringing a set of life experiences, joys, disappointments... talents and skills. Over the years we have blended all those ingredients and created a new shared set of life experiences. Together we have shared life cycles, as any other couple does... we have endured the heartache over the death of loved ones... parents and younger ones taken too soon... together, we’ve cried at the weddings of our nieces and rejoiced when a new baby was born into our family. We have enjoyed the acceptance of our relationship by loved ones from both families."

Judy reflects this too: "The Bronx, Mahopac, Mount Vernon, Manhattan, Madrid, Goshen, Connecticut and Albuquerque, New Mexico: all stops on the train of my life. The connection to New Mexico is the one that brings us to our celebration on July 12. My beshert and I have been together 30 years; as one can imagine we have shared both good times and difficult times. The 30 years have been a blessing, and though it would be hubris, it would be great to have an additional 30!"

There is one final way that Sharon and Judy's story, and the story of the two sets of tablets can inform what we celebrate here today. Liberal Judaism holds that though we treasure and value our ancient traditions, we shouldn't stick to each and every one of them. Sometimes, if a tradition is out of date and categorically wrong - for example the tradition of only heterosexuals being allowed marry - then we need to break it. We need to break it, set it aside, and carve a new fresh more inclusive tradition. God wasn't afraid to do that, and nor should we be, in our religious traditions and in our civil laws.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

A True Miracle

Yesterday, Friday 6/20, Dr. Bob Ness and I co-officiated Jennifer (who happens to be Dr. Ness's daughter) and Steven's wedding ceremony at Harmony Chapel in Aubrey, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

One of the known challenges of communicating through the phone and other technologies where we can only hear, but not see the person that we are talking to, is that there can be mix ups and confusion. So, we use different tools to compensate. For instance, we won't just say that Parker starts with a P, rather we'll say P as in Peter. The first time I spoke to Steven, I asked what his future bride's name was, and he said, her first name was Jennifer, and her last name was Ness. Now, he did not say, Ness with an n as in Nancy, or Ness like the prohibition era G-Man. Since he knew that I knew Hebrew, he said, Ness, like miracle, because the word for miracle in Hebrew is in fact Ness.

Now, you could argue that this was just a technical way for Steven to clarify her name, but then he could have used one of those more conventional clarifications. Having gotten to know Jennifer and Steven, I think there is something way deeper going on here.

There is in fact a fundamental disagreement amongst medieval Jewish philosophers, as to what constitutes a miracle. Some feel that God created the world, set up the laws of nature, and wrote whatever miracles he planned on already into the programming code, so to speak. Some feel that God created the world, set up the laws of nature, and once in a while tosses in a miracle, here and there, but they were not written into the original code. Others still, feel that while we perceive there to be laws of nature, really every single thing happening in the world at every moment is due to the will of God, and so in essence everything is a miracle.

Now, you might ask yourself, what's the difference? All their views are trying to reverse engineer the same reality, and there is no way of really knowing who is right, as this issue is untestable. If you understand, however, that what we are really talking about is not reality, but how we perceive reality, this makes all the difference.

Nowhere is this truer than in the realm of finding your soulmate. How else can we understand that word "soulmate" even? How else can we understand any two people feeling like they belong with other, in Steven's words, "meant for each other," if we do not perceive the miracles of our own reality? How else can we understand two people with diverse backgrounds, and distinct life experiences, coming together, and fitting together so well in every possible way.

The way Jennifer and Steven approach life helps us sharpen our understanding of what is going on here. The miracles we experience are an issue of perception. If you approach life like Jennifer and Steven do, being thankful for the experiences you had, have, and will continue to have together; if you wake up every day, and look forward to the adventures life has in store for you, as individuals and as a couple; if you see your being and your relationship, in Jennifer's words, as "a surprise and a delight"; well then you have it made. Your relationship, like the one these two have, will never go stale, will never lose its vitality, will always and every moment be a real Ness, a true miracle.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Transcending Space and Time

Yesterday, Saturday 6/14, I officiated Marcela and Rich's wedding ceremony at the JW Marriott in Buenaventura, Panama. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

An interesting detail in Marcela and Rich's story caught my eye. It reminded me of one of the most beautiful love stories in the Hebrew Bible. Jacob is forced to flee his homeland, fearful of the wrath of his brother, Esau. He then meets the love of his life, Rachel, and offers to work for her hand in marriage for seven years. Scripture tells us about those seven long years, "And they were in his eyes as a few days, due to his love for her." Rich tells us a similar thing about the love story he shares with Marcela, "Upon meeting Marcela I fell in love with her as she was an amazing person... I became more fond of her and the time passed so quickly that before either of us knew it, we were having our one year anniversary." So strong was the love of Rachel and Jacob, so strong is the love of Marcela and Rich, that it actually alters the sense of time of the lovers. How did they do it?

I suspect that once again both couples share a critical quality. They did not allow space to control their individual lives and shared destinies, and so they were able to able to transcend time itself. In the biblical story, first Jacob and then Rachel, did not allow themselves, their lives, or their love to be constrained by the space they happened to be born into. Jacob was not afraid to leave his homeland to forge a new life for himself, and to find love far from home. Rachel did not allow the fact that Jacob was from far away land to hold her back from loving him, and when he wishes to return to his homeland, Rachel gladly welcomes the adventure of now she traveling to a land far from her home. So too, Marcela and Rich. Marcela did not think twice about letting space hold her back from seeking the best education far from home, nor did Rich allow distance from the familiar to hold him back from pursuing professional opportunity. More importantly, they did not allow their cultural and religious differences to hold them back from forming a relationship reminiscent of Rachel and Jacob's love.

Marcela and Rich, what we wish for you is that you indeed continue to have such a close and strong relationship, where the space-time continuum itself seems altered, for the rest of what we hope are long and happy lives together.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Beshert in Español

Yesterday, Saturday 6/7, I officiated Anukie and David's wedding ceremony at David's home in Mexico City, Mexico. I officiated the whole ceremony in Spanish. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests. (An English translation follows):

En mis pláticas con Anukie y David, David dijo algo realmente fascinante, “Verdaderamente creo que yo fui hecho para Anukie, y que ella fue hecha para mí”. En Yiddish, el lenguaje germánico de mis antepasados europeos y los de David, existe una palabra específica para este concepto: Beshert. Esta palabra básicamente quiere decir hecho para el otro, o hecho en el paraíso. Dependiendo del contexto, puede tener significados un poco distinto; por ejemplo, Anukie puede decir “David es mi Beshert”, mientras David podría decir “Fue Beshert que los dos tuviéramos programas de radio consecutivos en la universidad, nos conociéramos, nos hiciéramos amigos, y después pareja”.

Estas palabras reflejan una creencia que precede la evolución el Yiddish a través de cientos de años. Los antiguos Rabinos nos dicen que antes de que un feto sea creado, una voz celestial anuncia con quién el feto eventualmente se casará. Así, que hace poco tiempo, podemos imaginar a esa voz proclamando “Anukie se casará con David”.

Ahora, podemos hacernos la siguiente pregunta, ¿los Rabinos verdaderamente creían esto?, ¿debemos creerlo nosotros? Cada uno de nosotros puede tener su propia respuesta. Lo que es realmente importante e interesante es preguntarnos ¿qué podemos aprender de esto?

Yo creo que Anukie puede tener la respuesta. Una de las primeras cosas que me dijo cuándo se describió a si misma fue “me considero una persona espiritual que confía en lo que Dios tiene para mí en cada aspecto de mi vida, mientras creo que es mi responsabilidad trabajar para intensificar todas las bendiciones que se me han dado”.

Decirid pasar el resto de tu vida con alguien es una decision muy grande, tal vez incluso la más grande que podemos hacer. Todos nosotros debemos tomar responsabilidad y hacer esa decisión de forma metódica, cuidadosa y deliberada como Anukie y David hicieron. Sin embargo, cómo no hay manera de predecir el future, debmos balancear nuestras vidas con nuestra confianza en el futuro. Dependiendo de quiénes somos, y en lo que creemos, además de en quién o qué confiamos puede ser un poco distinto. No obstante, debemos tener la voluntad de tomar el siguiente paso, donde el conocimiento humano y los cálculos fríos terminan. Ustedes tienen que encontrar el balance entre hacer lo mejor que pueden y tener la voluntad de ir más allá de dónde el conocimiento humano termina. Deben apegarse entre ustedes en la vida, el amor y el matrimonio, de la misma manera que lo hacen Anukie y David.

English Translation:

In my discussions with Anukie and David, David said something really fascinating, "I truly believe that I was made for Anukie and she was made for me." Yiddish, the Germanic Jewish language of my and David's ancestors back in Europe, actually has a special word for this concept, "Beshert". This word basically means made for each other, or made in heaven. Depending on the context, it can have subtly different meanings, though. Anukie could say, "David is my Beshert," while David could also say, "It was Beshert that we both happened to have consecutive radio shows at university, and so met, became friends, and then lovers.

Now, this word reflects a belief that preceded the evolution of the Yiddish language by hundreds of years. The ancient rabbis actually tell us that before a fetus is created, a heavenly voice announces who the fetus will eventually marry. So not all that long ago, we can imagine that voice proclaiming in heaven, Anukie will marry David.

Now, we could ask the question, "Did the rabbis really believe this? Should we believe this?" Each of us might have their own answer. What is a far more interesting and useful question is "What lesson should we learn from this?"

I think Anukie may have an answer. One of the first things she told me in describing herself is this: "I consider myself a spiritual person who trusts in what God has for me in every aspect of my life, while I believe that is my responsibility to work and enhance all the blessings he has given me."

Deciding to spend the rest of your life with someone is a big decision, perhaps one of the biggest one can make. We really have to take responsibility and make that choice very methodically, carefully and deliberately like Anukie and David did. However, since there is no way we can predict the future, we must balance all of that with trust in the future. Depending on who you are, and what you believe in, who or what you trust in might be a little different. Regardless, we have to have the willingness to take that next step, where human knowledge and calculation end. You have to have that balance of doing your best, with the willingness to move forward where human knowledge ends. You have to hold tight on to both in life, love and marriage, just like Anukie and David are...

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Building on Your Differences

Yesterday evening, Saturday 5/31, I co-officiated Carol and Josh's wedding ceremony, with Josh's dad, Reverend Terry Parker, at Artspace 111 in Fort Worth, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

I have each couple I marry write about themselves. In what this relatively young couple wrote about themselves and each other there was a maturity far beyond their years. Listen, and you'll see what I mean.

Carol writes, "I can’t imagine the rest of my life without him by my side. I love that Josh can make me laugh even when it’s the last thing I want to do... He’s definitely the yin to my yang, in the best way... He has always made me feel secure and loved despite some periods of long distance in our relationship, so I know he will make an amazing life partner and eventually a father. Josh has taught me how to love unconditionally, and that I can always be myself without judgment. I love that we aren't dependent on each other for happiness, but that our relationship adds such brightness to my life. I know there will be times when we will drive each other crazy, but I also know he’s the person I want driving me crazy..."

Josh writes, "I had realized that Carol was the strongest and most supportive woman I had ever met. Instead of avoiding a relationship with me because I was about to deploy, she put herself through the loneliness, the constant worrying and overall stress of being in a relationship with a deployed infantryman... I want to get married because I have never been around someone that I can be completely vulnerable with, like I am with Carol. She is truly my best friend and makes me a better person. I believe she will be a great mother, and I am looking forward to one day raising a family with her."

It is not that often in these essays that a person will talk about how her or his beloved will be a great parent, and even rarer that both do. So, the fact that both Carol and Josh went there is noteworthy. How do they know this? Well, I don't know if they know themselves, but if you listen to the rest of what they say, it is obvious.

They have a relationship that has withstood distance and danger. They view their relationship not as co-dependent, but as complementary. They realize that the only way you know you are in a relationship of true love is that you can shed all the masks of pretense with the other person. Most importantly, they recognize that an essential part of true love is the difference and distinctiveness, sometime maddening, each lover brings to the relationship.

Now, if you think about it, the extra dimensions that parenting demands are exactly those they have mastered. To be successful at parenting, you need the ability to deal with difficulty, the recognition that we need to complement each other as parents, the willingness to shed our masks of pretense, and learn who we really are in a role we have never been in before, and the recognition that our different parenting skills and inclinations, while they may drive us nuts sometimes, when used constructively will make our children's lives much better.

So, Carol and Josh, what we wish for you is simple, keep doing what you are doing. Keep being great lovers to each other, finding comfort in the other, complementing each other, being true to the core with one another, and building on your differences together, while driving each other just a little nuts…