Sunday, January 25, 2015

Pura Vida!

Saturday night (1/24) I officiated Carolyn and Hector's wedding at Maison de Macarty in Bywater, New Orleans, Louisiana. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:
Friends, our shared traditions embrace lifelong learning, and learning from everyone. So, whenever I officiate a wedding, I ask myself, this couple being unique individuals, what can I learn from them, what are they, consciously or maybe even unconsciously, teaching me, and indeed us?

I am personally fascinated with origin stories. Here is the origin story of today's wedding in Carolyn's own words: "During one of my visits to Costa Rica, I stumbled upon a suffering homeless animal. The community had already come together and invested financially and emotionally in the dog’s care... I felt compelled to assist. Because of this I entered Hector’s work to rent a car to get her to a veterinary facility. Although it took him three weeks to finally ask for a date, we have been together since."

This reminded me of a fascinating rabbinic tale. The Bible does not really explain why Moses was chosen by God to lead the Children of Israel out of Egypt. Now, actually, the Bible does give us enough reasons why he shouldn't. He does not want the job; he does not think the Children of Israel will listen to him; not only is he not a great speaker, he's a poor speaker; he does not think he will be a good leader. So, the Rabbis fill in the back story, the origin story of Moses' leadership.

They tell us that one day Moses was tending the flock of his father in law, Jethro, and a small kid ran away. Moses chased after the kid a fair distance. When he caught up with the animal, he found it drinking from a small stream. Moses said, "Now I understand why you were running away. You were thirsty! You must be very tired now." So, Moses waited for the kid to finish drinking, gently picked it up, and carried it back to the flock. Then God said, if Moses has such a kind heart that this is how he treats animals, certainly he will treat humans kindly too. He will lead my flock, Israel. What matters to God are not superficial attributes; what matters to God is a kind heart.

Now, fortunately, you and I never have to choose a leader to liberate 2 million people from slavery. However, if we are fortunate enough, we choose a spouse. Choosing a spouse is somewhat similar to choosing a leader. In both situations, we have to predict the future. We don't know what we as a country will need, when we elect a president. Likewise, we don't know what we will need or be like a few years into a marriage. So, like God in the rabbinic tale, we look for a sign, an attribute that can serve as a quasi-crystal ball - kindness, a good heart. That is what Carolyn and Hector saw in each other. That is why the origin story of this couple is so significant. They both displayed and admired, in each other, that same kindness that God saw in Moses.

Now, there are actually three more instances in the Moses story that reminded me of this couple. Moses is told to strike the Nile in the Blood and Frog Plagues and the Earth in the Lice Plague. However, he does not do so himself. The Rabbis say that this was because Moses did not want to show ingratitude to the Nile that hid him as a baby and the Earth that hid the evil task master he had killed as a young man. Think about how revolutionary this idea is. Moses showing gratitude to animals is one thing, but to inanimate objects?! That is truly incredible.

And yet, today, to our peril, we understand what happens when we disrespect our waterways and our Earth. We perceive exactly what happens when we do not live in harmony with nature, both animate and inanimate. In this sense, this couple is emblematic. Seldom have I heard two people talk about their love for nature, sustainability and the environment as kindly and passionately, as these two. Just look around you and you can see that in this very ceremony.

With that in mind, can any of us have any doubt that these two will live a life that truly and most definitely embodies "Pura Vida?"

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