Sunday, September 27, 2015

A Much Better Place

Saturday I officiated Danielle and Rob’s wedding ceremony at the W Victory Hotel, in Dallas, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:
I get to ask every couple a question that if anyone else asked it, it would seem downright rude, "Why do you want to get married?" Danielle gave me one of the best answers so far, "No one will mispronounce or misspell my last name anymore!"
Seriously, though, this is a question that was an easy one for Danielle and Rob to answer. Here is a multi-faceted statement that Danielle gives: "Rob is the most encouraging and supportive guy I have ever met. He ALWAYS puts my feelings and well-being before his own and would drop anything to make me happy. Not a day goes by that he doesn’t make me smile and feel like the luckiest girl in the world."
Wow! Gentlemen, whatever this guy has, can we bottle it and distribute it during the reception?!
Now, in Rob's description, Danielle is no slouch in this territory either, "I love absolutely everything about her. She makes me happy every day. If I am having a bad day, it only takes a moment with her to make me smile. I can’t stand being away from her even if it is just for the day. I have so much fun when I am with her and no one else understands how to make me happy."
Not exactly the stereotypical response you might expect from a hardened veteran turned cop, huh? I think the ladies may try to bottle some of what Danielle is selling too!
How do they do it? Well, at the risk of giving a simplistic answer in matters of the heart, I think the answer may lie in something innate in the personality of these two. Let's examine again one important sentence from Danielle's words above, "He ALWAYS puts my feelings and well-being before his own and would drop anything to make me happy." Now, spend just a few moments with these two, and you will understand that this sentence could have come out of Rob's mouth about Danielle too.
I don't remember if it was on Mr. Rogers or Sesame Street (the only two programs my late mother let me watch when I was really little), but I do remember a discussion of what true love meant. The answer was reminiscent of Danielle and Rob's mutual feeling. You know you are truly, totally and helplessly in love, when the other person's happiness is more important to you than your own.
Perhaps, I don't know, and we can certainly think of examples that belie this idea, this has something to do with what they decided to do with their lives. They have both gravitated towards lives of service. I mean, a nurse practitioner and a cop who is also a veteran of the national guard - can you be more service-oriented than that?! And what is a life of service about? It is about putting others' needs at the forefront.
So, let us all heed the lesson Danielle and Rob teach us today. Let us all learn to put the needs of others before ours, especially the needs of our soul mates. If we just do that, imagine what a much better place this world will be.

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Best Blessing for a Parent

Yesterday, I officiated a double header baby name for Allison and Bryan's cute twin baby boys, at their home in Plano, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their family:

When I met with Allison and Bryan a few weeks ago, I came away with a really warm feeling. We talked about how life changing having a child was, and how this changes your perspective on life, in a way that no other event does. They seemed, obviously, very tired. However, there was such a sense of contentment and love for each other and their children. It was almost overwhelming.

I don't know why, but it got me thinking about a fascinating biblical tale. David is in the twilight of his reign. He is about to crown his son, Solomon. One of his men gives him an interesting blessing. He expresses his hope that Solomon's kingdom be greater than David's.

Now, at first blush this might be puzzling. Is this not disrespectful to David? Our Rabbis say no. They point out the obvious to any parent. חוץ מבבנו, בכל אדם מתקנא. One can become jealous of anyone, except his or her child. The greatest compliment you can get, is that your child should be so great and successful that he eclipse you. In fact, one of the sweetest moments in any parent's life is the moment you are called not by your name, but by your affiliation to your child. Oh, you are His mom. You must be their dad. It's like hearing music for the first time. Hearing that your child has surpassed you, is even greater.

I asked Allison and Bryan what they hoped for their children's future. Kind of a big question, almost cliche. But I loved the answer. They said they hoped that the closeness in age of all three of their children would help them remain close, and stick together. I found that really interesting, especially as I have been reading a lot about "collective impact." Social scientists are finding that there is real evidence, that something many of us suspected is true, really is. For true and lasting and powerful social change, you don't need the next bright idea or silver bullet. You need different people with different talents and variant roles to act together. That is where greatness truly lies.

If you think about it, that wish that these kiddos stick together, that the next generation learn the power of collective impact, is how the blessing of Solomon materializes in the real world. The best way to see the fulfillment of our dream that our children surpass us, is through Allison and Bryan's wish, that they stay close, and stick together, cooperate with other. That is the path of greatness.

So, Allison and Bryan, our wish for you is similar to the one given to our ancient king: May yours kids indeed stick together, and through this may they be so blessed, that they be greater, greater than you.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Shared Destiny

Saturday I officiated Julia and Jeremiah’s wedding ceremony at The Venetian Terrace in Las Colinas, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests, some of whom came all the way from the Promised Land:

Math was never my strong suit, and geometry... Let's just say if I am never in great shape in that area... (See what I just did?) That said, I do remember one fact in particular, don't ask me why. Two parallel lines on the plane will never ever meet; no ifs, buts or maybes. The thing is, because we don't live on this theoretical mathematical plane, we can't really draw totally parallel lines. What looks like parallel lines to the naked eye, are in fact not; at some point they will meet.

Now, you might wonder: what on earth does any of this have to do with Julia and Jeremiah? I am glad you asked. The fact is that if you "roll back the tape" just a few years, Julia and Jeremiah, to the naked eye, would seem like those parallel lines on the plane. You would have been forgiven for thinking that this Jewish Russian artist financier would come together with this American Southern truck driver writer. But come together they did... Not only did they come together, but they came together at exactly the right time for both of them. The table was set for great things to come.

Now, moving away from mathematics to philosophy, what happens next is what really matters. You see, call it God, luck or fate, once you come together, you have a choice to make. Luck only takes you to that point where you could just be ships passing in the night. As the Ancient Romans said, the gods help those who help themselves. You need to seize fate, which is what happens to you, and transform it into destiny, which is what happens when you act upon random fate, and imbue it with meaning.

This is exactly what Julia and Jeremiah did. Now, my first draft of the end of the last sentence read, "destiny, which is what happens when you act upon random fate, and imbue it with action and meaning." Then I reminded myself that really sometimes fate can look active, while forging your destiny can seem passive. Destiny is more about imbuing what happens through action or inaction with new meaning. Julia and Jeremiah were not inactive in the choices they made or the places they went in life, before and after their lives intersected. It is, however, at the moment that Jeremiah contends they stopped acting (in more ways than one), that they were able to find their true selves as individuals and as a couple, that were able to find new, deep and rich meaning in their lives, that they were able to seize their shared destiny. There can be no better place to be in life, right here and right now.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Ready to Begin

Today I officiated Sammi and Mike’s wedding ceremony at Sammi’s parents’ cottage on Wellesley Island, New York. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

One of the fun facts about Sammi and Mike is that they met through their love of and involvement in team sports. Sammi takes sports very seriously. She majored in sports management at UCONN, and she worked for the UCONN men’s basketball team, even winning a national championship in 2011. And Sammi and Mike did not just meet through some random team playing some random sport. They met through their jobs at the Boston Red Sox.

Now, having grown up in the Middle East, I don't really get American sports, neither the games played, nor the fact that a large part of going to a college happens to revolve around sports. That said, having lived in Texas, where the majority religion is a faith called "football", I have managed to learn a thing or two. (Admittedly, not much more than that...)

Earlier this year I officiated a wedding between the Dallas Cowboys' assistant defensive line coach and a Cowboys front office official. The bride asked me to introduce a little surprise for the groom into the vows, and add the phrase, "in winning and in losing football seasons". The bride happily repeated this, but the groom refused to utter the word “losing” in front of his boss. Interestingly, during the reception, the head coach, Jason Garrett (had to Google that one!) told the bride, that actually adding those words made perfect sense, based on his experiences in his marriage! Still, he wasn't endorsing losing seasons or even games; he was just admitting that in all likelihood they would happen and put a strain on any couple involved in the game.

Now, at the risk of not being allowed off the plane at DFW tomorrow, I would like to posit a view that disagrees. I think loss can be one of the most valuable experiences a person or couple can have. None of us tries to lose, nor should we, but many times loss contains many more lessons and insights than winning does.

These lessons and insights do not come from loss itself, and not from trying to figure out its source or why it happened. They come from the meaning we give to the loss, the meaning we invest in what has happened which can elevate it beyond recognition. It is meaning that takes us from "why", which can be debilitating to "what now" which can only be empowering.

This vital lesson is central to and weaved through Sammi and Mike's stories as individuals and as a couple. I believe this approach is what taught them in Mike's words that, "It’s the simple things in life that matter to us. Not money, fancy items, or crazy adventures. It’s the quality time we spend together that truly matters."

This very place we are in is replete with this understanding, and reminds them and us of that very pure truth. It is a place with many memories. Almost every spot around the cottage reminds her of her grandfather, who she called Poppa, and the quality time they spent here. Indeed, she believes he is here by her side today, and Sammi has a heart made of one of her grandfather’s shirts sewn into her dress. Sammi's beloved dog, Jake's, ashes lie next to the water, where she feels he still watches over them while they enjoy the river. And this very boathouse came out of the fight Sammi's Dad faced with colon cancer. He used the building of the boathouse as a distraction from his battle, always keeping this beautiful wedding in mind. It was something the family had to look forward to, during a very trying time.

Mike talks about struggles and losses during his adolescence, something we are all familiar with, but of which he seemed to have an extra helping. "In some ways," he says about one of the most difficult times for him growing up, "I look back at this as a defining moment for me as an individual. I believe I learned a lot... and that has helped shape the person I am today. I narrowed down a focus of what I wanted to achieve in life and... set out to become that person and develop the skills necessary to be successful."

It is though, through a life altering challenge, that Sammi and Mike experienced together, Sammi's diagnosis of Crohn's disease in 2012, that their relationship was not only solidified, but also imbued with deep meaning. Listen to Sammi's words; this is gold:

"Sitting in hospital rooms on those dark days, makes you realize what is important in life and what is not such a big deal. In those hospital rooms, Mike and I realized that our relationship and our love were what were truly important. If our love can stand going through that, I am confident that it can stand anything that life throws at us."

This makes Sammi and Mike's mutual belief at this very moment understandable, "We are so in love and so ready to begin our life together that there is no time better than now."