Saturday, November 21, 2020

Go the Distance

Saturday evening (11/7), I officiated Jayme and Jordan’s wedding ceremony at The Harlow in Kansas City, Missouri. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

“I went to Kansas City on a Friday, by Saturday I learned a thing or two, but up 'till then I didn't have an idea of what the mod'rn world was comin' to.”

Sorry, I couldn’t help myself; I’ve always wanted to begin personal remarks at a wedding, with those words. For those of you who don’t recognize those words, well, shame on you. They are from Everything’s Up to Date in Kansas City, part of one of the greatest stage shows, Oklahoma, by Rodgers and Hammerstein.

Now, everyone can and should appreciate Rodgers and Hammerstein, regardless of where they live and what generation they are from. It is, however, fascinating to reflect on the fact that for many years for many people, Kansas City was the height of culture and technology.

And some of us, like Jayme and Jordan and me, got to first experience American adulthood and become truly independent in Kansas City, many years after Kansas City was overtaken in prominence by other cities.

We don’t always stop to think about how the place we live, the place we fall in love, or the place we get married is a character in our story, but it is, and this is true no less in real life than it is in a stage show. This can be true, even when your story starts about forty miles away, like it did for this couple.

The beauty of Jayme and Jordan’s Kansas City story is that in Jayme’s words. “It just kind of naturally happened.” In fact, and I have had a few other couples who this happened to, they moved in together, first, along with Jessie, just to save on rent.

Then, Jordan says, “The dynamic of the household… changed a bit. After a few years, Jayme and I still had feelings for each other and decided to do things over again, really giving it our all. Our love for each other would grow and blossom over time. Eventually, Jessie would accept a job in another state making the townhouse just Jayme and I’s…”

Jayme feels like this natural evolution is key to their getting here today, “I think something that made our relationship so strong was that we were friends first… We have built a good foundation… It is built to last.” This is why they both felt that, in Jordan’s words, “Our love is strong, and it only felt right to start talking about the next steps.”

The strength of that love and its character, having evolved naturally, is reflected in both of them speaking of the other as their best friend. And this is where their future diverges from Rodgers and Hammerstein. They have certainly not, “gone about as fer as they can go.” This relationship will go the distance.

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Déjà Vu All Over Again

Sunday evening, I officiated Heather and Aaron’s wedding ceremony at The Springs Event Venue - the Ranch, in Aubrey, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Heather and Aaron chose to have this quote from Rumi read today; they feel it speaks to their relationship. “The minute I heard my first love story, I started looking for you, not knowing how blind I was. Lovers don't finally meet somewhere; they're in each other all along.” I’m not sure how you say déjà vu in 13th Century Persian, but it sounds like Rumi is saying just that.

I find that very appropriate. Yogi Berra might even say about what we are doing here today that it is déjà vu all over again. That is because the last time Heather, Aaron, their parents, and his sister got together, it was back in May, for an even more intimate wedding ceremony at Frisco Commons Park.

I want to go back a little further, though. I ask every person I marry to write an essay about themselves and their partners. Heather and Aaron wrote their essays on the same day we had our second wedding ceremony planning meeting, March 13th. In a sense, these essays could be treated as time capsules of a world long gone.

Now, I ask every couple not to read each other’s essays before our meeting. Heather and Aaron abided by this, which makes the following fact really interesting. In these time capsules, they both independently highlighted the same fact about each other. They said that one of the reasons they so loved each other is that they found the other to be selfless.

Little did they know how important that word, that idea, that concept would become in the new world we live in. They could hardly have imagined that folks across the world, in the profession Heather works in and Aaron spent many years in, would be called on to meet the moment with selflessness. And none of us could have imagined that each of us in our daily lives would be asked to continue to this very day to act selflessly. 

I joke with couples I have married or have begun to work with since March, that I don’t envy their future children. They will not be able to complain about anything. “Oh, you’re having a hard time with cleaning your room/mowing the lawn/doing your homework, are you? Try living through a global pandemic. Now that was hard!”

In all seriousness, though, I believe that Heather and Aaron’s children, specifically, have the potential to be a little kinder, a little more patient, a little more understanding. I believe this not only because of the hardship their parents will have experienced, but because they had a head start on that idea, we have all learned the importance of, selflessness.   

A Hebrew Speaking Dog, an Austrian Psychoanalyst, and a German Philosopher

Saturday afternoon, I officiated Lily and Matt’s wedding ceremony at Sage Lodge in Pray Montana. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

A Hebrew speaking dog, an Austrian psychoanalyst, and a German philosopher. No, they didn’t walk into a bar. I was just reminded of each of them, when talking to Lily and Matt. Allow me to explain.

Both Lily and Matt made an interesting choice. Many folks dream of moving out to California. Their approach was little different. Their dream was to move from California to God’s country.

You might think a Jew would find it ironic to refer to Montana as God’s country, because, you know, being His chosen people and all that, so few of us, Lily being one of only 1,395, live here. Not true. Montana more than makes up for this having had perhaps the most famous Hebrew speaking dog in America, Miky.

Courtesy of Dylan Brown/Helena Independent Record

No, he didn’t really speak Hebrew, but, like me, he did serve in the Israel Defense Force, and then, again, like me, he moved to the US. The IDF gave him to the Helena Police Department, and they had to find a rabbi to help them learn commands in proper Israeli accented Hebrew, because, unlike me, he didn’t understand a word of English. True story.

Now, let’s get serious. When I was speaking with Lily and Matt about their life journeys one concept came up again and again, meaning or purpose. Matt, discussing his evolving thinking, says, “If human beings have purpose… it stands to reason someone or something is behind those… a creator or simply nature itself.” And, Lily, who was a fan of Matt’s before she even met him says, “He sparks an intense sense of purpose within me.”

This approach reminded me of one of the most profound books I ever read, first at the age of 17, in Hebrew, and then in my 40s in English, Man’s Search for Meaning. In this book, the Austrian psychoanalyst, Viktor Frankl, combines biography with an explanation of his therapeutic method. Though scientifically grounded, this method was inspired by Nietzsche’s philosophical outlook that, “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.”

This approach calls upon each of us to do the hard work Lily and Matt have each done, individually, to discover our purpose, to find true meaning in our lives. Indeed, Frankl contends, that it is incumbent upon each of us to search for and find our own meaning.

When this type of hard work is done not only as individuals but as a couple, it makes us better individuals too. As Matt says, it helps one arrive at, “a level of honesty… that I’ve never known previously.” And, in Lily’s words, has the potential to make one want to become “the best version of” oneself and, “follow through in that pursuit.”

It is through this hard work, that Lily and Matt have been able to discover within each other and within their relationship, the truth of another profound statement, this time from C.S. Lewis, “Love is not merely a feeling. It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by the grace which both partners ask and receive from God." We should all be so lucky.

Monday, October 12, 2020

Carry On

Sunday afternoon, I officiated Megan and David’s wedding ceremony at W House, in Gun Barrel City, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

I always ask every couple to not only tell me how they met, but to write about it too. Some answers are more interesting and some are less, some tell you more about what was going on in the minds of the protagonists and some tell you less, some are well written and some, well, are not.

Fortunately, Megan and David’s answers score well on all these points! David writes, “I finally asked her on a date to go bowling, which she accepted. I picked her up and drove to Main Event. The bowling date itself was great, but then on the way back, I got a flat tire. I was embarrassed beyond imagination, and even had someone passing by help out. I thought to myself that she’d never want to talk to me or see me again. Thankfully, I was mistaken, and we’ve been together ever since.”

Now, Megan’s answer is also really funny in a very sweet way: “He asked me to go bowling. Our first date was 8-22-16. Of course, I got lost going there and went to the wrong place first. I was so embarrassed. I remember seeing his bowling stuff and was like, ‘Wow, he is a nerd!’ He also got me roses. Then he tried to show me how to play pool. We went and got Philly cheesesteak. When we were coming back, he got a flat tire. I actually felt bad for him and wished I could help him more. It was kinda funny.”

So, why do I like stories of how people met, especially when they are interesting, descriptive of the protagonists’ inner life, well written and funny? Well, aside from the fact that there is not enough good writing out there, many times it tells you a lot about the couple, beyond that specific moment in time. And, if you know Megan and David, I think you can see what I mean, when you hear them telling that story.

I also ask every couple why now is the right time for their wedding. Megan is utterly practical and very honest in her answer to why now, “We decided to get married now because we are ready. Also, I’m not getting younger and we would like to have a family.” Ok, then. David says, “Over the years, we’ve discussed marriage and agreed that 2-3 years was a good time frame.” 

Now, usually, asking why now is a pretty simple and innocent question. I never anticipated that there would be an additional layer to that question. Then again, none of us, unless any of you work at the CDC, or have seen Outbreak or Contagion too many times, could have imagined what is going on the world right now.

And here is where I find the second part of David’s answer instructive, “With everything going on in the world right now, it seems even more important to make sure we get married now instead of waiting.” Obviously, there are very few right or wrong answers to many of our questions right now. However, what Megan and David tell us is that while we should follow the science and always be safe, it is important that we carry on. That is a great lesson for all of us.

Choose Our Destinies

Saturday evening, I officiated Robin and Scott’s wedding ceremony in downtown Plano, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

The story of how Robin and Scott married is reminiscent of an important element added to one of the oldest stories ever written down, the Gilgamesh Epic. Utnapishtim tells Gilgamesh about a great flood that the gods wrought to destroy all of humanity. Most of us will find this story familiar, as eventually this evolved into the story of Noah.

Of course, the question is why would God destroy all of humanity? The God of the Bible, being bound by a moral code, does so because of the evil of humankind. The gods of the Gilgamesh Epic, being more morally ambiguous, do not really have to justify themselves, and in the original versions of the story they do not.

However, later versions make some attempt at least at an explanation, if not a justification for why they would do such a thing. While some versions speak of the gods growing concerned with overpopulation, other versions include a reason, which is at the same time horrifying and hilarious: Humankind is really noisy, and the poor gods are just trying to sleep…

OK, why is that funny? Oh, this is why. Scott recounts what happened the night he met Robin: “One starry headache pounding night a loud ruckus came from our backyard.” Now, luckily, Scott was not an ancient Sumerian god, so all he could do was, in Robin’s words, come “out to tell us to keep it down.” However, once Scott saw Robin, there was no going back to sleep. Instead of scolding them, he joined the party, and here we are seven years later.

Now, there is an important element in what the old radio broadcaster, Paul Henry, would call, “the rest of the story.” Both Robin and Scott recognize that what I just said, “Here we are seven years later,” is by no means an automatic result of that fateful evening. Like all of us, they have had easier times and harder times, and they have chosen to harness all of these experiences to learn and to grow as individuals and as a couple.

What a great lesson for the time we are in. None of us have chosen to live through the experiences we are now going through. None of us can predict how we will come out on the other side. However, if we can escape the random clutches of our fates, perhaps, like Robin and Scott, we too can choose our destinies.

Turn Your Fate into Your Destiny

Friday evening, Father Anthony McGinn and I co-officiated Ashley and Doug’s wedding ceremony at the Marigny Opera House, in New Orleans, Louisiana. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

I found Doug’s description of how he and Ashley met intriguing: “I was travelling to New York City one weekend… My sister was flying back from a business trip around the same time I was flying in from New Orleans. I was going to meet up with her so we could share a cab into the city… Her flight was delayed, so I sat at her gate… waiting… I was messing around on my phone and ended up logging-on to Bumble… I ended up matching with Ashley and even though I was up front with her about the fact that I lived out of town, we ended up texting…”

Forget the fact that the last paragraph would not have even made sense to any of you, just a few years ago. You wouldn’t understand what messing around on a phone means. You wouldn’t understand how one would log in on a phone. You wouldn’t understand what an app is or how one matched on it.

It’s also kind of crazy, when you think about how we got here. Cellular technology was developed from a process used to navigate torpedoes to hit Nazi naval vessels, and apps matching folks partially based on where they are, rely on GPS, developed to track Soviet intercontinental ballistic nuclear missiles. What I’m trying to say is that fate, forces far beyond the control of Ashley and Doug, brought them together.

Ashley picks up the story from here: “From then on, we texted back and forth every day. Texting turned into phone calls. Phone calls turned into FaceTimes. Keep in mind: we still hadn’t met in person. As fate would have it, we were both going to Chicago for Labor Day Weekend! He was on a bachelor party and I was going to visit friends.”

Now here is where their descriptions interestingly diverge. Doug simply says, “Ashley and I ended up meeting up at a bar around Wrigley Field called Sluggers.” Fate, once again? Not according to Ashley! “If you know me, you know I’m very determined. How could we both be in the same city and NOT meet? I was out with my friends at a bar and Doug had been out all day for a football game. He and his friends were on a party bus back to the city. Their next destination? Sluggers sports bar near Wrigley field. So naturally, I hopped into an Uber… I waltzed right in wearing a bright red dress like the emoji girl... and immediately spotted Doug at the bar. We started dancing, laughing, talking all night and closed the place down. Fun fact: unbeknownst to me, his friends were still there and were spying on us from afar. I got the stamp of approval.”

There’s a lot more to the story of the last few years, but these two beginning parts tell us a lot, if we are willing to listen. Don’t take it from me. Take it from Ashley, “I like the think our story is one of fate but also persistence — our commitment to our love, embracing each other's' uniqueness and making it work.” Interestingly, the contrast between fate and what she calls persistence is reflected in the writing of a giant of 20th Century Jewish philosophy, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik. He defines fate as something that happens to you, over which you have no control. He says the challenge is to transform that fate into destiny, through which you metamorphose from being the one acted upon by forces beyond your control into an actor who takes control.

When you do that, specifically in the framework of a loving partnership, the potential for growth as individuals and as a couple is limitless. Now, going to a bar in Chicago to meet someone you have never met in person takes some fortitude and possibly some liquid courage, even for an extrovert like Ashley. You may not be able to truly imagine what it meant for Doug, the introvert to take the next step. As he tells us, “Anyone that ever knew me would have bet their life that I would never move out of New Orleans. Everything I knew and loved was in New Orleans. I didn’t really know anyone in NYC outside of my sister, I didn’t have a job there, and New York was a city that was a completely different lifestyle than I had ever imagined for myself. Normally I would have been all sorts of anxious and sick to make such a leap. The difference this time was Ashley.”

Ashley sums up why their relationship works, “Doug and I come from very different backgrounds. He’s a more reserved Catholic boy who grew up in the South and never thought he’d leave, and I’m an extroverted Midwestern Jewish girl who has lived in a fast-paced city environment for most of my adult life. But our differences are what make us perfect for each other! We balance each other out and bring out the best in each other. I push him outside of his comfort zone. And he encourages me to slow down, be more patient and enjoy life’s little moments.”

The lesson, my friends, is clear. Be like Ashley and Doug. Turn your fate into your destiny. It does, indeed, pay off.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

A Love as Strong as Ours Deserves the Respect of Marriage

Saturday afternoon, I officiated Katie and Grant’s wedding ceremony at Blissful Hill in Spicewood, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

It is hard to generalize, however, most successful relationships, as time passes, toggle between two states of being. They deepen every day, while continuing to preserve the sense of freshness that came from the first time you met. If you will, they are at once Carly Rae Jepsen’s, “Hey, I just met you and this is crazy, but here's my number, so call me maybe,” while at the same time Pablo Neruda’s, “So close that your hand on my chest is my hand, so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.” (Hopefully, the literary gods will not strike me down for comparing the two artists…)

You sense that Katie and Grant have this figured out. Check out the beginning of their story. Grant says, “I took her to a sushi date which turned into another [thing to do] and another thing to do. The date lasted over ten hours. I went home that night and just slept. I knew she was the one.” Katie says, “He was funny and care-free, and it felt as though I’d already known him forever.” And, she adds, “We count that date as our anniversary because we pretty much knew from that point on there was nobody else for us.”

One of the reasons their relationship works is because Grant says Katie is, “an enigma. Katie’s energy has always been something magnetic. She can talk your ear off, and I love that about her because I don’t like to talk much most of the time.” Katie elaborates on that specific point saying that Grant is her, “best friend and that’s what makes it different from every other relationship. Grant balances me in many ways and pushes me out of my comfort zone with his hobbies.” And, in case you were wondering, yes, that includes hobbies the average city girl does not engage in, unless she marries a self-described “good ole country boy,” hunting and fishing!

Their relationship has actually been put to the ultimate test, one that would have made no sense to a time traveler from just a few months back. As Grant says, “I’ve been around the world with her… I’ve cooked with her, I’ve watched shows with her, and now (wait for it…) I’ve been quarantined with her.” And that experience led him to say, “I’ve come to realize that no one will ever be a better life partner than Katie.”

This is why Katie says, “I can’t imagine my life without him. If it were up to me, I would’ve married him three years ago.” This is why Grant says, “A love as strong as ours deserves the respect of marriage.”