Sunday, June 30, 2024

Lucky in Love

On Friday, June 28, 2024, I officiated Nancy and Charles’s wedding ceremony at their home in Princeton, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Nancy and Charles met in high school. They didn’t hang out in the same circles, but Charles thought she was friendly, funny, and cute. From there, they each went their separate ways. That could have been the end of the story. We might not be here if not for another fellow Jew, Mark Zuckerberg. 

As Nancy and Charles write, “We resumed our friendship about five years ago with infrequent messaging via Facebook.  A little over a year ago, we began talking every night and we stayed up to one o’clock in the morning often speaking in different time zones. We both seemed to effortlessly fall in love.”

They not only fell in love; they found so much in common with each other. Charles writes, “We seldom if ever disagree… we tend to always get to the same endpoint although the paths we take are often different.” They talk about being each other’s best friend, and cherishing doing both the mundane and the extravagant together, equally.  Charles gleefully admits that he learns so much from Nancy and he looks forward to continuing that process.   

Nancy writes, “We are so lucky to have fallen in love. Consequently, I cannot wait to see what amazing things our future together holds.” That reminded me of that immortal song, “Lucky in Love”. No, not the Mick Jagger song, the one by Tommy Castro. This speaks exactly to what Nancy is saying:

“Lady luck she never looks my way, turns her back when it's my turn to play, but I'm lucky in love, I'm so lucky in love.

Never had much luck with the dice, I like to play but can't pay the price, oh I'm lucky, baby, lucky in love. I'm so lucky, lucky in love...

When it comes to lovin' I'm no beginner, in my baby's arms you know that I'm a winner, in lovin', I'm such a lucky man, when I hold my baby, I hold a winnin' hand

I got a roof that leaks, a floor that squeaks, a car that breaks down every two or three weeks, but I'm lucky, lucky in love, I'm lucky now, baby, I'm lucky in love, that's what I am, I'm so lucky, I'm lucky in love.”

Nancy and Charles, may Tommy’s words continue to embody your relationship, and may you enjoy many many years together, lucky in love.

A Life-Long Adventure

On Tuesday, June 25, 2024, Don Maurizio Ormas and I co-officiated Micol and Federico’s wedding ceremony in Italian at Castelo Del Pozzo, outside Milan, Italy. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

One of the fascinating things about Micol and Federico is that the interfaith nature of their lives does not begin with them. They both have Christians and Jews in their families. Thus, it was natural for Micol’s family to mark Christmas, when she was growing up. 

Incidentally, I believe that every Jew should mark Christmas, as it celebrates a unique occurrence in Jewish history: the birth of the only Jewish boy who ever lived up to his mother’s expectations…

Seriously, though, one thing that really stands out about Micol and Federico is their deep sense of connection to their past. We often think of community in what one might call a horizontal sense, those we connect with today. However, community also has a vertical sense, our connections with our families and ancestors long gone. 

When I asked Micol to write about herself and Federico, more than half of what she wrote was about her family, recounting both at length the trials and triumphs of her grandparents, Enzo, Luisa, Ettore and Zaira.

Similarly, Federico took the time to explain what he called his roots, that while international, still harken back to different regions of your beautiful ancient land, the province of Messina and a tiny village in Piedmont.

Now, the connection to the past, in and of itself, is rather neutral. It can be used for evil, and you, in Italy, know that better than we do in America. It can also be used for good, and this is how this connection has manifested in Micol and Federico’s lives. 

This is how Giovanna and Franco raised Federico. This is how Lorella and Riccardo raised Micol. As Micol says, “They taught me and my sister the concept of RESPECT. Yes, we are Jewish, but we always respected both faiths. It has always been an exchange, never a prevarication and I really think that there is no greater teaching than this. This is what the concept of family means to me. This is how I imagine my future life with Federico, building our own family.”

It is this sense of great love and respect that brought us to this moment. As Federico says, “That is why I asked her to marry me. That is why I want to spend my life with her. This is the beginning of a life-long adventure.”

A Very Highly Regarded Entity

On Tuesday, June 18, 2024, I officiated Kristin and Henry’s wedding ceremony at their home in Garland, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Jackie Mason, who like me was ordained and served as an Orthodox rabbi, once said that every Jewish parent wants their child to become a doctor, not that smart (I’m changing what he actually said because the original is too offensive) a lawyer, no brains at all an accountant. I’m not sure where that leaves rabbis or for that matter creatives like you, Kristin and Henry. 

Now, why did I open with this joke? Bear with me. It is about to make sense. I ask every person I marry to write an essay in which they tell me about their life and spiritual history, how they met, why they want to get married and why now. Kristin and Henry’s answer is so romantic, I am going to have to steel myself, so not to cry. Here goes. Kristin and Henry say, “Only now, the state of Texas will treat our jointly owned business as a disregarded entity.” Now, I will admit that I researched this just a little bit, meaning I read a couple of entries on the internet, and for the life of me, I cannot understand what they mean. Then, again, I was not smart enough to become an accountant.

That’s ok, though, because, Kristin and Henry continue. Again, the prompt was why do you want to get married and why now: “Oh, and also because we love each other a lot.” There is more to it, of course. And here is where the disregarded entity stuff actually has a serious side. Kristin and Henry say, “We have started a lot of creative endeavors and are embarking on our business, Shiitake Brains, where Kristin cuts the commercials, and Henry makes the music.”

I truly believe, and this has been true in my relationship with my wife, that working together on a creative endeavor really does add a depth to a relationship that is quite unique. Trish Harp, who has conducted extensive research on this subject, says that “in spite of the roller-coaster ride that defines entrepreneurship, spouses have reported a great feeling that they are on this journey together. There is a strong desire to stick it out… When couples create a shared vision for their future, their satisfaction in all areas of life increases."

What Kristin and Henry realize, though, is that one creative endeavor stands above them all. As Kristin and Henry write, “Our greatest ‘endeavor’ was born in November of 2023 and it has been incredible to learn how to be both parents and partners in every sense of the word.”

Becoming parents trumps becoming business partners. It actually changes our biology. As Abigail Fagan writes, “Becoming a parent changes us deeply. It changes our brain, our behavior, our thoughts, our hormones, our biology, and our body. With awareness and knowledge, this can be a beautiful gift—specialized brains to take care of and bond with our infants, a new period of neuroplasticity where we might find healing for ourselves.”

When you share such a gift together, when you find such healing together, you can approach your wedding and your marriage the way Kristin and Henry do, as an already living and breathing entity, dare I say, a very highly regarded entity, that just needs the final seal of approval. As Kristin and Henry write, “We are getting married at this point in our relationship almost as a formality. We’ve committed our lives to each other already.”

The Safety to Be Vulnerable

On Saturday, June 15, 2024, Reverend Marty Younkin and I co-officiated Sydney and Hunter’s wedding ceremony at Brake and Clutch in Dallas, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Sydney’s description of the genesis and initial stages of this relationship is evocative. I suppose evocative is kind of in the job description for 4th grade teachers: “I can still vividly remember standing nervously outside the restaurant waiting for him at North Italia. I remember seeing him walk up the stairs and realized in that moment that he was going to be someone special. I knew right away on that second date that he seemed to have all the qualities I was looking for… We discovered very quickly that we were very compatible and good compliments to each other's personalities.”

Now, I did leave out something: When this happened. Hunter backs up the story 24 hours and shares this vital piece of information: “We met at Happiest Hour, and it went so well that I asked her on a dinner date for the next night. We continued to go on dates, and in November 2019 we made our relationship official.” 

[Sucking my breath through my clenched teeth.] I feel like what I just did, for which there is no word in English, is the most apt reaction to that date, because unlike Sydney and Hunter, at that time, WE know what comes next a short few months later. Incidentally, the French do have a word for this sound: “Tchiper”.

Now, if you figured out that the apprehension I felt when reading this was unwarranted, congratulations, Sherlock. Yes, we are at their wedding. Hunter goes beyond that, though. Here is what he says: “When the pandemic started in early 2020, we were able to spend a lot of time together and our relationship grew stronger. We decided to move in together in July 2021 and started talking about the potential of marriage. I asked her dad in March 2022 for his blessing, and I proposed in July 2022 at Flippen Park in Highland Park.”

What is the secret of their relationship, though? How did the pandemic not only not defeat them but cause their relationship to thrive? Hunter says, “Sydney is the most thoughtful, sweetest, and genuine person I know, and I can’t imagine a life without her. She’s made my life so much better, and I love her unconditionally. Our personalities mesh together very well, and we trust each other.”

Sydney mirrors this when she says, “Hunter is dependable, reliable, thoughtful, kind, loving, hardworking, supportive, patient and the best person I have ever met. I have always dreamed and hoped for a love like this one. I can’t even truly put into words how much I love him and how happy he makes me. I couldn’t be any luckier to be with someone who treats me and everyone else in his life with so much kindness.”

Sydney says one more thing that really answers the question, though. This is true gold: “He allows me to feel comfortable to be myself and supports me even when I am not at my best.”

The fact is, and this will be true long after the global pandemic during which their relationship evolved is but a distant memory, we can’t always be at our best. I know that the cult of grind culture militates against this, but it is true. And the number one mark of a relationship that is built to last is just this: We have the safety to be vulnerable in it. We have the safety to not be at our best.  And we know that our partner will still be there for us, that we will still be loved. THAT is about as good as it gets.

Sunday, June 9, 2024

Learning Process

On Saturday, June 8, 2024, I officiated Lauren and Hunter’s wedding ceremony at the Hall on Dragon in Dallas, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

I have been married for more than thirty years. I have found that marriage is a learning process. I continue to learn about things I am not supposed to do.  

The formal start of Lauren and Hunter’s relationship began with such a lesson for Hunter. Lauren says: “Hunter asked me to be his girlfriend… but unfortunately, he chose to ask this on my birthday. Of course, I excitedly said yes, however after four years of sharing my birthday with our anniversary, let’s just say I am VERY happy that we now have a new anniversary to celebrate.”

Single guys, listen up, and take note. Day before, day after, but not on her actual birthday. Stay safe out there, gentlemen.

Let’s back up to the beginning, though, and I hope there are no Alabamians here, because Lauren begins their story with this statement: “I was not in the mindset that my husband would be found in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.” Ouch. She adds, though, “Hunter would soon change that.” 

The theme of learning was central to the genesis of their relationship. So was the barter system. Hunter says: “I was starting my first teaching and coaching job in August, and she was taking a history class. The circumstances were perfect, because I didn’t have any money and she hated history. I traded homework for food, and we grew closer, as we spent more and more time together.”

Apparently, Napoleon knew only half of it. (He was a French emperor, Lauren.) Not only does an army march on its stomach, so do romantic relationships. 

Hunter invokes two specific themes that I love in explaining why Lauren is the right person for him: “I want to marry Lauren because she’s my best friend, the person I most look forward to being with every day and someone I feel safe with… When we first met, I was attracted to her not only because she was gorgeous, but because she was smart and funny as well. As our relationship has continued, I still find her attractive for all those things but also for her kindness and lovingness.” Safety, coupled with kindness and lovingness. That sounds simple yet profound.  What a great prescription for a successful marriage.

Lauren agrees, emphasizes that Hunter puts his money where his mouth is, and that that proves to her that this is the real deal: “There isn’t a day that goes by that I question whether Hunter is the right partner to spend the rest of my life with. He assures me of his love constantly not only through his words but also his actions. I desire to marry because I honestly feel that Hunter isn’t just someone I want to live with, he is someone I don’t want to live without… 

I understand that marriage can be, and will be, difficult at times, yet all I can say is that I’m ready. I’m ready to take that leap because I know I have Hunter holding my hand. I am ready to commit to choosing him every single day for the rest of my life, the way I know he will always choose me. I am ready to build a life together, and I am so excited for what the future has in store for us.”

Boldly Seek Out Life’s Adventures

On Sunday, May 26, 2024, I officiated Alexis and Rob’s wedding ceremony at the Dallas Arboretum (Jonsson Color Garden) in Dallas, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

I ask every person I marry to write an autobiographical essay, discussing their life and spiritual history, how they met, why they want to get married, and why now. Note, I do not ask for their honeymoon plans. Alexis, however, volunteered this: “In the ceremony, maybe we leave out the part about how my ideal honeymoon is a week-long guided hallucinogenic trip in Central America. Or not. Your call.”

Understandably, this surprised me. But the more I learn about Alexis and Rob, the more I appreciate and understand their mutual desire to explore the vastness of the world, take risks together in order to grow, and support one another along the way, and in their own way. In their ketubah, a Jewish written form of vows they signed before the ceremony, Alexis and Rob vow, “Together, we will boldly seek out life’s adventures and actively pursue the richness and fullness of a life well lived.” It is this sense of wanderlust and drive for an enriched life which brought them together over 10 years ago. 

Long before they met, Alexis and Rob each joined the Peace Corps, a government agency established by President John F. Kennedy, which sends volunteers abroad to promote peace through global service. Rob served two years in rural Morocco. Alexis, inspired to join the Peace Corps by her uncle, Jim Bass, who served in Peru in the early 1960s, served three years in Botswana.

Back stateside, subsequent to their terms of service, they each sought community with fellow Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs), and each, in turn, joined the same RPCV group, Rob a few years prior to Alexis. In this group they sought camaraderie with like-minded individuals devoted to community service, and it was at one of the group’s gatherings that they met.

Since then, they have built a life together filled with adventures and challenges: national and international travels, backpacking through Yosemite, urban exploration, scuba diving anywhere they can, renovating a house (since 2018!), and building community here in Dallas. 

Rob throws himself into building and driving racecars, and funds this hobby with his motorsports photography company. Alexis volunteers heavily on committees in both Peace Corps and commercial real estate related nonprofit organizations. Truly, they have a hard time sitting still. Each encourages the other to take on new interests and strive to reach their fullest potential.

As with any relationship, not every day can be sunshine and sea turtles. After 10 years, Alexis and Rob joke that they have done more relationship work before marriage than many do years into their marriage – but this work has undoubtedly paid off. They have learned to listen and communicate, and now value their differences as much as their similarities. They believe, that, to again quote their ketubah, “By appreciating one another’s perspectives, we will gain a wider view of the world around us.”

Alexis and Rob, thank you for exemplifying this important idea in your lives. May others learn from you and follow in your path, and may you continue to carry your passion for understanding the beauty of the world, the gratitude for your community, and your fierce love for one another into your marriage. As you’ve worked hard to create a house together, may you now create a home, one set upon the foundation of marriage.

Can’t Argue with Results

On Saturday, May 18, 2024, I officiated Jessica and Joe’s wedding ceremony at the Texas Discovery Gardens in Dallas, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Jessica tells the story of how she and Joe met: “We first met when one of our mutual friends picked me up to grab a drink and Joe was tagging along. Joe claims he said hi, but if you ask me, he never said a word the entire way to the bar. Shocking for him. Once we arrived Joe ordered a round of Jell-O shots, dropped them on the table, and then left, without a word. As Joe likes to say, ‘Can't argue with results!’”

This story is emblematic of Jessica and Joe’s personalities as individuals and as a couple. You see very little ego. They don’t take themselves too seriously. This might sound like a frivolous idea to you, but philosophically, this is very important for the individual human psyche.

More than that, the late great British philosopher, Alan Watts, preached about the importance of this very idea that for the sake of humanity, you must not take yourself too seriously. One might even argue that some of the greatest historic tragedies are due to the fact that people took themselves too seriously.

And not taking yourself too seriously is vital for our interpersonal relationships. The Torah commands us to love our fellow as ourselves. If everyone took this maxim seriously and really followed it, imagine how wonderful life would be. By its very nature, loving the other as we love ourselves necessitates at its very core not taking ourselves too seriously.

The Ancient Rabbis ask a fascinating question: What commandment does one fulfill through love and marriage. Their answer is the very verse I just quoted. The most supreme manifestation of the commandment to love one’s fellow as oneself is through a deep romantic relationship. It is this type of relationship that teaches us that it, and I mean it in the broadest sense possible, is not about us. Thus, don’t take yourself too seriously.

Jessica and Joe, what we wish for you is that you keep that spark that began your relationship, that spark that has stayed with you ever since. Don’t take yourselves too seriously, and through that may you enjoy an ongoing deep love for many years to come.