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."

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