Monday, January 30, 2017

A Conspiracy of Love

Saturday evening I officiated Shana and Lane’s wedding ceremony at the Dreams Riviera Cancun, on the Riviera Maya, Mexico. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

If you know Lane, you know one thing is true: You can't get this guy to shut up. (Not really.) Seriously, though, it's quite common, especially when it comes to talking about matters of the heart, for us to be less verbose than our female counterparts.

Listen, for instance, to how Lane describes the beginning of his relationship with Shana: "We met at the hospital when I was on the ambulance transporting patients. We went on several dates and decided to make it official." Yea, that's how it went... Nope.

Just listen to Shana describe the exact same thing, and I am actually leaving some of this out: "I had NEVER been someone that got "googly eyed" over a good lookin' man before; HOWEVER, let me just tell you that the first time I saw him, another nurse and I had to stop giving shift change report to stare at this most handsome man... We never really talked to each other when he came around. Just some smiles and 'Hey how's it goin?' My coworkers had enough of this unspoken flirting going on. While I wasn't around, they asked Lane what he thought about me and if he ever planned on asking me out. They gave him my number, and he contacted me a couple days later." Wow! Where Lane's description reads like a corporate press release, Shana's description could be taken out of a John Le Carre novel!
Around the time I was writing this, I was listening to Cory Booker read his audiobook, and he introduced me to a term that describes what Shana's friends did behind her back, a "conspiracy of love". In a world awash with imagined conspiracies, not many of them positive, a "conspiracy of love" is a beautiful thing.

This is not the first "conspiracy" to be "perpetrated" on this couple. Both of them describe what wonderful, loving, caring and close families they grew up in. This is the original meaning of Booker's "conspiracy of love". And, this "conspiracy" went further. After all, you don't join the most intimate of the helping professions, nursing, if your parents have not raised you to deeply care, not just for your family and friends, but for others in need. This same approach is what caused Lane to join his dad in a regular rather novel Sunday morning activity, feeding the homeless.

Having been raised this way, today is special and meaningful, because it marks the formalizing of the creation of their new family, where they can continue this "conspiracy of love." As Shana says, "I have never been 'that girl' that dreams of the big wedding day, with the big dress... What I have dreamed of is FAMILY. I desire to be married so we can try to start a family that is as close and wonderful as the families we were raised in. I want to marry because I have been blessed with a man that also values the importance and closeness of family."

Shana further underlines the significance and context of today in their lives, "The actual wedding day will be wonderful, but what I desire most is to start living the day after the wedding." What does she mean by "living"? I suspect that one simple sentence from Lane explains this: "She has the biggest heart I've ever seen in someone." That big heart means that Shana and Lane's "conspiracy of love" only starts with their family, but spreads far beyond it, to their friends, their patients and beyond. We and the rest of the world are and will be better for it.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Oriented towards Action

Saturday evening I officiated Jennifer and Alex’s wedding ceremony at the Nizuc Resort and Spa, in Cancun, Mexico. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Jennifer and Alex's shared traditions put an emphasis on action. Thoughts are important, words are important, but action reigns supreme. This is an idea both Jennifer and Alex wholeheartedly endorse.

In fact, when Jennifer tells of her early life and how she was raised, this idea is central: "My childhood was filled with a lot of love and some challenges but through it all, we made it together as a family. My parents through their actions, hard work and dedication, really taught me the meaning of gratitude, generosity and love."
It is fitting, therefore, that their relationship was born (excuse the pun) through action. No, I don't mean through an actual birthing process. (Why would you think that?!) No, through actually working together. Listen to Alex: "Jennifer approached me with an idea to help me market my practice... She... is very socially connected in the community and it was a great opportunity... So we started working together doing educational and marketing events. As time passed we developed a chemistry that was very strong and undeniable. It felt as if we had been together for 30 years and I quickly realized this was meant to be.”

The Ancient Rabbis, being so oriented towards action, actually ask a fascinating question about marriage: What mitzvah or commandment does one fulfill in the course of being married? Their answer is, the commandment to love your fellow human as yourself. Now, at first blush, that might seem perplexing. Love is an emotion, not an action, isn't it? Well, yes, but it is very connected to action, as in order to last it requires work.

Actually, one of the pleasures of working with couples who are more seasoned (don't call us old) is that they have some experience in life. They have been around the block once or twice. And so, many of them not only know that marriage needs work; they celebrate that! That is what makes marriage worth it. As Jennifer says, "We work at our relationship everyday through the great and not so great and we always end up with a great amount of love for each other."

Now, the commandment to love your fellow human as yourself is very apt for marriage in another sense too. When I was a kid, I was only allowed to watch two TV programs, Mr. Rogers and Sesame Street. I can't remember which of these programs explained true love, but the explanation itself stuck with me. They explained that you know you are truly in love, when the other person's happiness is more important to you than your own. Wow. Profound, yet simple.

Now, admittedly, sometimes we need life's events to cause us to reflect and remind us to act. As Alex wisely says, "Certain events in our lives put things into perspective... (and help us) do (the) right thing..." Unfortunately, we are not always able to drive, so we can act on that perspective. That was Alex's particular predicament a few months ago.

"So," he continues, "I had my cousin secretly pick me up and asked her to take me to buy Jennifer's ring... I chose to simply have the entire family over to our place on her birthday to celebrate not only her birthday but to be witness to my proposal to her... I think she appreciated it more than the traditional romantic dinner for two... I can only hope our wedding day and our future is as happy, joyous and enjoyable." Well, Jennifer and Alex, I think I can speak for everyone when I say we not only share what that hope. We are confident it will come to fruition.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Truly Divine

On the day after New Year's Day, I officiated my first wedding ceremony of the year for Andy and Larry, at their home in Frisco, Texas. It was just me and them! Here the remarks I shared with them:

What an absolutely fabulous life story you have had! From your oral telling of it, and even more your written stories, one senses and can almost touch the rich fabric of the life you built together over 35 years. Thinking about your relationship, I was reminded of a fascinating rabbinic interpretation. The Bible tells us of an artifact shrouded in mystery, the Ark of the Covenant, well known to your generation, because of fellow Jew, Steven Spielberg.

Now, with all the special effects, Indiana Jones never really discusses what is inside the Ark, but the ancient rabbis do. They note that amongst the objects in there, the two most prominent were the tablets upon which the Ten Commandments were inscribed. But wait, did I say two, or perhaps four… Because they note that both sets of tablets, the ones Moses breaks, and the replacement set God gave him, were put inside the Ark. (As an aside here Moses teaches us, that like every smart Jew, you should always take out a warranty. You never know!)
Rembrandt’s Moses with the Ten Commandments
And it is this idea of the Ark containing both sets of tablets, that the rabbis really make a "meal out of". Their explanation for this is an interesting one, but forget their answer for a second, let's dwell on the question for a moment, as well as an alternative explanation. Inside the most holy container in the world, sit the most holy artifacts in the world. Fair enough, but why both the broken AND whole sets?

And then I remember my own father's teaching on a different passage. He has taught that the biblical concept of man being created in the Image of God was never properly understood, until now. It is only through archeology that we are able to understand that this concept is one the Bible contrasts with an ancient custom. You see, we have found a number of ancient temples, where the king erected a statue of himself in prayer. That way, whatever he was doing, “he” would still be in the temple, praying to his god.  

The Image of God idea flips this practice on its head. The Bible says that having an image of YOU in a temple is useless and meaningless. Instead the Biblical God creates little images of HIM to go out into the world and live life to their fullest potential. These little divine images, i.e. you and I, unlike statues of clay or stone, experience wonder, adventure, love, pleasure and joy. Invariably, they also experience disappointment, disillusionment, sadness, pain and even regret.

Here is where the tablets come in. The message of the tablets, like the message of your beautiful life together, Andy and Larry, is that renewal is possible. A new set of tablets is handed down, and with it renewed happiness, the finding of peace and the experience of comfort. And why are both placed in the Ark? It is to teach us that embracing renewal does not mean that we discard the wear, tear and breakage of the past. Living life to the fullest, like you have, is not just about the whole tablets; it's about the broken tablets too. Because the whole tablets and the broken tablets both rest in the Ark. The beauty of lives well lived and richly experienced is only built from the sum total of all our human experiences. It is THAT that makes a story like yours, Andy and Larry, not only beautiful, but truly divine.