Sunday, July 31, 2022

Yes, And.

On Friday, July 22nd, I officiated Lauren and Joshua’s wedding ceremony at Lauren’s parents’ home in Coppell, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Unlike Lauren and Joshua, my understanding of improv is that of a layperson. I am sure, therefore, that I am oversimplifying, when I say that the essence of improv is “yes, and”. The reason, “yes, and” is vital to improv comedy is that improv comedy, like jazz or any other improvisational art form, is iterative. So, your answer need not be “no” for the iterative process to break down; it could be just “yes, period”. 

I do believe, though, that this is not only a great prescription for successful comedy, but also a great prescription for life. Of course, success in life does demand some degree of planning and follow through on those plans, but the best lived life is iterative. Have you met someone who just followed their carefully conceived life plan without deviating from it? If you did, they probably didn’t make a huge impression, because, BORING. Likely they are not lifelong learners, at least not yet.

Living your iteratively requires an important prerequisite. You must be willing to ask questions. This is very Jewish. As Lauren says, “To me, living a meaningful Jewish life… [is] about interrogating oneself on what living a Jewish life means to you and the lifelong journey to figure that out… Judaism is centered on the idea of questioning, whether it be a rabbi, the Torah, your family, yourself, or even God… Being Jewish is about questioning things, always, even when you think you already have all the answers, or it feels difficult to ask.”

Lauren and Joshua’s love story is replete with asking questions, and answering with, “yes, and.” Their relationship began with Joshua saying, “Hey, nice bracelets! Do you like electronic music too?” Yes, and. Though, Lauren argues that it started before that when someone said to her, “Hey, do you want to see this random improv comedy show, in a random guy’s backyard, in a random house in Denton, Texas?” Yes, and. Eventually, she says, they moved on to other questions: “Do you want to move to Chicago with me? Do you want to write a sketch show together? Do you want to get an apartment together? Do you want try and start a comedy club with me?” Yes, and, yes, and.  

Living your life iteratively means that you can reach heights and distances that cannot be reached without improvisation, and the benefits can influence not only your life, but the lives of many others. Joshua gets this. He says, “I want to marry Lauren because she is everything I could ask for in a life partner. Together, I truly believe we are an unstoppable team. We picked up our lives in Texas and started over in a new place. If we can build something from nothing this effectively, imagine what we can do as life partners! I believe the family we are starting together will not only continue to bring us joy, but also has the potential to create good in the world as a whole.”

Deep Connections

On Sunday, July 17th, I officiated Jackie and Larry’s wedding ceremony at The Press Room in Knoxville, Tennessee. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

I gotta tell you: The love story these two share is almost too much for a rabbi. I mean it starts on a Birthright trip to Israel, for crying out loud. Their first kiss followed a day that included visits to such romantic spots as Mount Herzl, the Western Wall, and Yad Vashem. 

Seriously, though, picture this: That evening, they walked the streets of Jerusalem, just the two of them, and engaged in very deep and honest discussion about themselves. Then they shared that first kiss in the shadow of the walls of the Old City, in front of the Jaffa Gate. There was no turning back now. From that moment, they were inseparable. 

Now, if you know Jackie and Larry, this will not surprise you in the least. They are not only deeply connected to their Jewish heritage; they are also deep thinkers. They have each contemplated their heritage, their spirituality, their place in the world. They have each played a positive influence on each other in deepening their connections to their heritage and their spirituality. 

To wit, Jackie shared one of the deepest descriptions of the various aspects of Judaism one encounters. The cherry on top is that she attributes it to something said in a sermon. By a rabbi. When she was a kid. I mean, as a rabbi myself, you had me at sermon:

“I remember a sermon our rabbi gave during the high holidays at some point when I was a child. He talked about the hand Jew, the head Jew, and the heart Jew. The hand Jew connects with Judaism by performing Jewish acts, the head Jew thinks through what it means to be Jewish, and the heart Jew finds ways to embrace the spiritual elements of Judaism. I would say that at various points in my life, I’ve been each.

During my upbringing… I was the hand Jew… when in college… I was the head Jew. Now as an adult… I’ve synthesized them into a practice that is uniquely mine but honors the tradition of my ancestors—a feeling that has only grown since reaping the benefit of Larry’s background. I’ve become a heart Jew.”

Now, about that background, Larry goes farther back than a sermon in his childhood in clarifying how seriously deep his Judaism went from day one. In fact, this is the first time in more than 500 weddings that a groom casually mentioned his Pidyon Haben, a unique ritual in which parents pay tribute to God for the birth of their first born son. His mother is Israeli, his parents met on a kibbutz, nuff said. 

Again, however, what really struck me with Larry is his deep thinking about his spirituality. He not only attended Jewish day schools, but he also pondered what God had wrought in the world and the existence of God in the first place. He pondered what Jung had to say about religion, what Christianity had to offer our world, and what Nietzsche had to say about what we have wrought in God’s world. 

Why? There might be no more Jewish answer than this: “I am a firm believer that human beings possess a responsibility to themselves to explore the answers presented to them, and to continually ask more questions.” 

Jackie and Larry’s contemplation of the essence of their relationship is in line with their deep deep thinking. Larry says: “I feel free to evolve as a man when I am with Jackie… she and I share many principles… a common philosophy [on]… relationships and expectations… I… am very excited to get to know her even better and [I] look forward to seeing where this voyage takes us.”

And Jackie says: “When I think about why [marry Larry] now, quite honestly, it’s because I trust him more than any other person to have my best interests at heart.” It doesn’t get any better than that.

Monday, June 27, 2022

Rom Com on the Golf Course

Saturday evening (6/25), I officiated Marny and Justin’s wedding ceremony at Cator Woolford Gardens, in Atlanta, Georgia. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

It will not surprise you that while couples meeting online were the exception when I started officiating weddings fourteen years ago, today couples NOT meeting online are the exception. And, even within that group, the minority who meet IRL, Marny and Justin stand out. It’s almost like their meeting each other came out of a rom com. Check this out.

Marny says: “I started working at Parkland Golf and Country Club… While out on the golf course, I was… making my rounds when I pulled up to a father and son duo at the first hole. I immediately noticed the son’s bright blue eyes… I had never seen him before in the time I had been working there. After leaving them, I skipped a majority of the course in hopes that I would run into him again, but I didn’t… I didn’t see him again for about 6 months.” 

Marny continues: “The day I ran into him again… he was with his dad, his friend, and his friend’s dad. I felt like he remembered me, but he was very shy. Every time I asked if they needed anything, he would refer to his dad and not speak directly to me. I assumed he was either uninterested, taken, or shy. It was coming to the time when I would only see them once more and needed his dad to sign out, when I ran into them again. 

Justin finally came over to talk to me to get another drink, and I said I would be running into them again around the corner since I wasn’t supposed to at this spot on the course. When I got around the corner, they had just gotten off the tee and Justin’s friend grabbed way too many clubs off the cart, and I had a feeling Justin was going to come over to talk to me. That’s exactly what happened… he asked for my number and the rest is history.”

Justin picks the story up from here: “The next day I was talking about how I met the most amazing girl and how I thought she was into me.” Now, it seems like bragging aside, he wasn’t totally sure, but he continues, “As I was talking, I got a text from Marny… She WAS interested and wasn’t just being nice the day before. From that point on we were at each other’s side almost every day…”

Justin reflects on the way they met and sees great meaning in it, “It always felt like destiny to me… Meeting her on the golf course I played hundreds of times… Getting her number on the golf hole I considered my home hole. Getting her message, the next day at the exact time I was talking about her. Along the way, I know there were a thousand reasons why she was the one, but the start certainly helped.”

Now, as beautiful as this story is, I think that the most important point is in that final sentence. We have many an encounter in life that feels special, that feels like more than a coincidence. However, it is up to us to act on that feeling. It is up to us to seize what could be just fate and turn it into destiny. 

And though that’s the part they don’t usually show in rom coms, that’s the real stuff relationships are made of. The six years after that chance encounter are what really made Marny and Justin who they are as a couple. 

That quotidian hard work of two becoming one is what gives that chance encounter its real meaning. THAT is what makes it so special. We should all be so lucky.

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Why Not Now?

Saturday evening, I officiated Emily and Nick’s wedding ceremony at the Dallas Museum of Art, in Dallas, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Now, one of the primary tools I use to arrive at these remarks is the autobiographical essay I ask each person I marry to write. Sometimes lessons for life appear as nuggets in these essays; other times there is an underlying theme to be uncovered. In the case of Emily and Nick, the themes did not need to be uncovered; they were presented up front, and they each went deep.

Interestingly, the thematic underpinnings for Emily and Nick’s essays could hardly be more different in their sources. Nick is somewhat conventional, and I do not mean that as a value judgement. His theme comes from his high school, St. Sebastian, which also reflects his upbringing by his grandmother, Mary: “Love God, Work Hard, and Take Good Care of One Another”. Nick says, “These words stick out to me, because they are much of what Mary had taught me over the years, for they embody what she stood for, exemplified by her watching mass daily and saying the rosary, working hard every day… until she was 83 years young, and taking care of her girls, Denny [Nick’s grandfather], and every guest… I had known all along that this way of life was not revolutionary, but foundational…”

Emily’s theme comes from an educational source, like Nick’s, but a slightly less conventional one. Again, no judgement. Well, maybe a little bit. (Not really.) Emily says, “My favorite Peloton instructor (incidentally, I did not know that people had favorite Peloton instructors), Kendall Toole (probably a good Irish Catholic girl), always says, ‘Life is like an EDM [Electronic Dance Music] song: You feel the music build… then you must prepare and when the drop comes you fall into the fight.’ Just like in life, with every build you must learn to handle the load and adapt to the highs and lows. Some EDM songs are more intense, others continuously build, and some remain mellow. My spiritual journey is, oddly enough, no different.”

Though their themes’ sources are slightly (OK, more than slightly) different, I find this idea of a theme that guides you, a philosophy of life, if you will, not only refreshing, but vital. As William B. Irvine says, “Without one, there is a danger that you will mislive… a danger that you will look back and realize that you wasted your one chance at living.” 

Now, when you have such a philosophy of life, it is much easier to answer the two questions I ask every couple to address, why marry and why now? Emily says, “To bring this metaphor home, just like an EDM song, you never know when the big drops are going to come, and in life we don’t either… During COVID I realized that even on the world’s worst day and in what seemed like the darkest of times, I felt this ever-present sense of warmth around me the entire time. Nick is simply the light and love of my life, and I know he always will be. Despite everything going on in the world I want him to be beside me for every high and every low… Just like our ketubah [Jewish marriage contract] says, our two hearts really do beat as one.”

Nick, ironically, adopts a Jewish practice in addressing this, answering a question with a question (really a number of questions): “With marriage as our bond, driving a thoughtful deepening of our commitment to one another, the real question I’ve asked myself is ‘Why Not Now?’ rather than ‘Why Now?’. I’ve known since shortly after our first dinner… that I loved Emily; that’s never been in question. If the next step in building our lives together, and eventually a family, is marriage, then why wait to reaffirm the happiest decision of my life to date? I can’t think of anything I’d rather do more than marry Emily and start the ‘rest of our lives’ together, and no one who has ever known me has ever described me as patient, except for Emily, so why practice patience now?”

Sunday, June 12, 2022

You Never Know What You Might Win

Saturday evening, I officiated Bari and Justin’s wedding ceremony at the Stonebriar Country Club in Frisco, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Even if you didn’t know Justin that well, all you need to do is listen to one statement he made about Bari, and you would know that he very wise: “I think I can safely say that she really is my other [half] even when I hate that’s she’s right and I’m wrong.” Notice that he didn’t say if, just when. They don’t just let anyone into West Point, after all, only the smart ones. 

One could say that Bari and Justin meeting each other was not just one stroke of luck but a few strokes of luck. First, Bari says: “Justin and I met May 5, 2018. An unusual set of events occurred for us to meet. At the last second my friend Leah and I decided we were going to go to Austin to pack up some of her apartment to move her back to Dallas. The weird part was it was Cinco de Mayo weekend which is my dad’s birthday, and I would never normally go out of town for his birthday if I was home.” So, this story, by all rights, should have stopped before it even started.

Then Bari says: “When we got to Austin, we decided to go the bars and the very first bar we went to, Leah got her phone stolen. Instead of just going back to her apartment after we realized what happened, she said there’s nothing we can do about it now, so let’s just enjoy ourselves and stay out. The next bar we went to, The Ranch, is where I met Justin for the first time.” So, again, this story could very well have ended there.

Now, lest you think that at this point they were home free, not so fast. Justin says, “We made eye contact in the bar and instantly had an attraction. At the time I thought she was talking with another guy.” Bari confirms: “Justin initially came up to me and introduced himself, but then walked away because he thought I was already talking to someone else.” So, again, all of us might not have made it to where we are this evening.

Bari says, “After he walked away, I looked at Leah and said we need to follow him. We would casually dance next to where he was until he decided to make a move again.” Make that move he did, ladies and gentlemen, and here we are. 

Now, some people might learn from this, that somehow everything is meant to be. My sense of Bari and Justin is that are way too rational for that. The more meaningful lesson here is that the world presents us with many lucky opportunities. Often, we fail to even notice these, and even if we do notice them, we fail to act upon them. 

The lesson here is that perhaps we should. So, take that trip to Austin, forget that stolen phone, and get back on the dance floor. You never know what you might win in the process. It worked out for Bari and Justin, didn’t it?

Monday, June 6, 2022

Abide

Sunday morning, I officiated Hayley and Stuart’s wedding ceremony at The Springs, in Aubrey (at the Ranch). Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

I ask each person I marry to write about themselves, and in Stuart’s writing something jumped out at me, immediately, when one specific word repeated itself: Dude. For instance, when he describes his friends, he says that “they are all awesome dudes.”

Stuart is a very laid-back guy. In explaining why he wants to marry Hayley, you can feel that sense of laid back calm, “I want to marry Hayley because we have been together for 4 years and I love her. She is fun to be around and she makes me laugh and I know what kind of person she is deep down. We have been through a lot together. Nothing crazy but definitely a lot over the years.”

Stuart has had an extremely calming effect on Hayley. To wit, she says, “Stuart is truly my very best friend… He always makes me laugh, even when I’m frustrated with him. He has helped me grow emotionally... He is my rock… I feel safe with him, and I know that no matter what life throws at us, we will be able to get through it together. Stuart just brings so much joy to my life, and I wouldn’t be who I am today without him.”

If you still haven’t figured out where I am going with this, yes, I am invoking the extremely Jewish movie, by the Coen Brothers, The Big Lebowski. If you have not seen the movie, whose main character is played by Jeff Bridges, it is subject to many different interpretations, but central to them is a stoic like calmness, embodied in the main character’s motto, “The Dude abides.”

Now, this is a wedding, not a film class, but the movie has very deep lessons for life, and if you look at it closely, its lessons for marriage are lurking right beneath the surface. Incidentally, Jeff Bridges, himself, who as the years have gone by has blurred the lines between actor and character when it comes to this movie, has been married for 45 years.

Let me mention just three lessons very relevant to marriage, that will make sense even if you are unfamiliar with the movie. These are taken from the excellent essay, 10 Most Important Life Lessons from The Big Lebowski:

“Life is unpredictable. You can't predict what will happen. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. You can't have everything. Just deal with it. Don't let it get you down, just accept it as a potentiality every day and live life with the knowledge that not everything can always go your way.

Stress is pointless, and leads to nothing positive, if it can’t be controlled and properly channeled. If you can’t control the situation… Just accept it. Abide…

If life brings you lemons, learn to make lemonade from it. Life is life. Difficult situations, sad moments and unpleasant experiences will come up. Just learn to go with it and don't let it get you down. You can't control everything in life… Move on and enjoy life.”

Thank you, Hayley and Stuart, for reminding us of these important lessons for life and love. May your marriage overflow with happiness and may you both abide.

Sunday, June 5, 2022

Great Team

Saturday evening, I officiated Sami and Stephen’s wedding ceremony at The Oasis, in Red Oak, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

The first thing Stephen said when I asked him to describe his spiritual history reads like a disclaimer, “My spiritual history isn’t anything crazy.” It’s understandable, because after all we are in Texas, and in case you didn’t notice, down here we definitely do crazy in the area of spirituality and religion. It’s our default position, in fact. 

Now, if there is one other state that can prepare you for Texas crazy, out of all the other 49, you’d have to say it was Florida. Luckily, these future Texans attended FSU. Now, they didn’t actually meet at FSU, but it figures heavily in their relationship’s origin story. It did take time, though. Sami says, “The first time I actually remember meeting Stephen was New Year's Eve 2017 when our friend groups all celebrated together. He was immature and I was not interested!” Stephen admits as much but does say those words that make every man’s heart sing, “I had successfully gotten her number.”

According to Sami, the next part of the story, which happened twenty months later was pretty simple: “He had seemed to mature since the last time I saw him.” That seems like a logical statement, until you hear that he contacted her telling her that they would both be in the same city, and that his mode of transportation would be, I swear I am not making this up, a “Chicken Limo”. Stephen helpfully explains this as, “exactly what you think it is – a 90’s era yellow limousine with a giant chicken head protruding from the roof.” I imagine that this is what the FSU website is referring to when it speaks of, “embracing a philosophy of learning strongly rooted in the traditions of the liberal arts and critical thinking.”

That weekend proved critical. By the end of it, Stephen and Sami had a true bond. Stephen says, “I knew I had met someone that I could build something truly meaningful with by gaining a mutual understanding of our shared values and who we were deep down… I had never encountered someone for which I felt every level of connection with – physical attraction, friendship, and aligned deeper values.” Sami agrees, disclosing that maybe back in 2017 she was a tiny bit interested after all, with this new encounter awakening something inside of her, “Not only did we have an initial attraction that had never faded, but our personalities, senses of humor, and values were completely in sync.”

This is such an important lesson for all of us. Many attributes figure into a relationship. The most important, though, sometimes the most overlooked, is this important aspect, values. You can grow up in different religions, you can have different characteristics, you can have different tastes, but shared values are a must. 

One specific value stands out, and it is, in my humble opinion the most important. Stephen states it well, “We are a great team, and when you have a relationship where each person truly in their heart wants what is best for the other, the challenges that all relationships face do not seem as challenging.”