Sunday, September 23, 2018

More than Worth It

Saturday evening, I officiated Nicole and Harlan’s wedding ceremony, at Latrobe's on Royal, in 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? So, I ask each person I marry to write an autobiographical essay to help me answer just that question.

Nicole and Harlan’s essays were strikingly different, not in content, so much as in form. Harlan’s essay is very orderly and sequential. It’s divided into five short paragraphs, corresponding to the five points I ask each couple to address. It’s almost like this physician used to write code for a living... Nicole’s essay is more free form, stream-of-consciousness-like.

However, taken together, I found their essays to be a fascinating meditation on marriage as a vehicle to a life of greater meaning. In that sense, Nicole’s description of Harlan’s future plans at one point can be deceptive: “Harlan had been telling me that he never wanted to get married - to anyone - and he wanted to live alone in a trailer on the beach and surf and read books.” Lest you think I she is making this up, allow me to quote Harlan: “I assumed I would be a bachelor, probably a reclusive one, reading and living near a beach.”

Now, though there is some humor in this, Harlan touches upon a great truth. There IS a tension in marriage, as there is in any relationship, but more so. Marriage does mean sacrificing a little bit of yourself, your autonomy, your independence. Ignoring this is not a great recipe for a successful marriage. However, there is a reason that every hero myth, every origin story of religions and of nations contains sacrifice at its heart. It is good for the soul.

And so, when Harlan adds, after discussing his original plans for hermitage, four words, “Then I met Nicole,” you can sense that this origin story will be heading in a very different direction. Not surprisingly, here’s what Harlan says next: “The more I learned about her, the more I cared about her, and I eventually fell in love... Trading my independence for a real relationship and commitment... was more than worth it, because she loved me so much.”

Nicole picks up the story, with words prominently featured in every romance novel and every bodice ripper, “So, I moved to North Dakota.” Wait, what?! Seriously, though, with their plans for marriage set, and with their medical careers still developing, Nicole and Harlan were set for a long engagement. There’s nothing wrong with that. That’s the beautiful thing about marriage: You get to do you. There are many different ways to get it right.

However, as Nicole spent that year on the frozen tundra of the Dakotas, with Harlan back in sunny California, they reflected on an important truth. Nicole says, they, “decided that it was better not to wait.” Glib as it may sound, sometimes you just realize that life is too short and too precious. This is not true of every marriage, but when you have committed to marriage as a vehicle for a deeply meaningful life, as Nicole and Harlan did, this becomes evident pretty quickly.

When that happens, it makes sense to get to it. As Harlan says, “I cannot imagine my life without Nicole. I want to share my life with her, and I know it is more meaningful because of her. Marrying her is my way of confirming my commitment to her. It... is a symbolic gesture to her to show how much I love her and that no matter what happens I want us to be together for the rest of our lives.”

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