Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Winning the Battle

Liza and Trent are really special. They exhibit how we can win the battle against our natures and make the world a better place. On Saturday (10/27) I officiated their wedding at the Petroleum Club in Houston, Texas. Here are my remarks:

The ancients were puzzled as to why the average person looks out for him or herself, first and foremost. To solve this riddle they posited forces of the mystic realm - the Devil or Original Sin in Christianity, the Evil Inclination in Judaism and the like in other faiths.

Darwin was able to offer more naturalistic explanations of the organism's struggle to survive on the evolutionary landscape. Then came Richard Dawkins to explain that it is not that whole organisms directly struggle with others, rather it is our genes themselves that drive us in their wish to replicate and survive us. He warned us too that we must each resolve to be Anti-Darwinian in our social behavior. We must rule our genes, and not the opposite. We must do what is good and right and just, not just advantageous to us. We must look out for others, and not follow our own narrow self interest.

Since this demands that we go against our nature, this is really difficult. This means we should extol those who are able to win this battle against nature. To me, Liza and Trent stand out as great examples in this regard. They really go out of their way to understand others, look out for them, and give, give, give to those around them. They do this as individuals, and help each other do this even more, as a team. As Liza says, "Trent balances me out, and gives me perspective. He reminds me that not everyone will have the same experiences as me, or have the same outlook that I do. He reminds me to be patient, and give things time." Trent in turn says that Liza, "is the one who has been able to help and touch so many people around her. Her goodness spreads with all of her acquaintances and it leaves me awe-inspired."

Liza and Trent, it is this unselfish approach towards others that makes you really stand apart. May we all learn from your example, and through that help make the world a better place.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Just like a Déjà Vu

On Friday (10/26) I officiated Jackie and Scott’s wedding at Allen House in Austin, Texas. This wedding had me reaching for my daughter’s music collection again. Check out my remarks:

One of the first things I always ask a couple is how they met, and how they fell in love. I hear so many wonderful and special stories. I have to admit that Jackie and Scott have a particularly unique love story. They met and dated in high school. Then came college, and like many high school couples they broke up. At the time some said that if it was meant to be, they would make it back into each others arms....

What a mysterious, but true thing to say. It's like a Déjà Vu was predicted here, one that eventually happened. It took not one but two more separate times over the course of the years to come, but that Déjà Vu moment of true love arrived. Scott’s mom uses the word Yiddish word bashert, which roughly translates as fate or meant to be. It reminds me of a few lines from a song called Déjà Vu, by one of my daughter's favorite singers, a Swedish artist, who goes by the moniker Velvet:

I can hear you call my name, like a flash from yesterday... We were made for one another... It's all coming back like a Déjà Vu... Once again only me and you...

What Jackie and Scott remind us is that in fact sometimes things are meant to be but not at that first moment. Sometimes, even if we are meant for each other, we still have some growing and learning we need to experience as individuals, before we can come together as one, and that is OK.

And what Jackie and Scott also remind us is that when that moment comes, when that second chance comes, we need to take decisive action to make it happen. So let us learn from Jackie and Scott the careful balance between waiting to live and learn and seizing the moment of that second chance, where we truly go all the way.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A Contemplative Couple

On Saturday (10/20) I co-officiated Amy and Ben’s wedding, at Green Pastures in Austin, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Sometimes you hear people lament the condition of marriage today. They long for the non-existent good old days, depicted in movies of the Hayes Code era, where everyone married, most married young, and all lived happily ever after. I recently re-watched Ilya Kazan's 1947 movie, "Gentlemen's Agreement". This movie shook American Society to its core in recognizing Anti-Semitism was a real problem. Still, even in this groundbreaking movie, the hero and the heroine are discussing marriage within two scenes, once they sense that their relationship is getting half serious. Do any of us really think this was ever a good or healthy thing? Though hardly any of us do, we as a society still have not fully, excuse the pun, divorced ourselves from this idyllic dream that never was.

This is where the approach of Amy and Ben, shared by many of their peers, may teach us a thing or two. Amy says, "Society has drummed up the notion that the clock is ticking, that you have to start having kids and being single after thirty is just taboo. None of those things matter to me."

So, if we understand that that is true, how do re-conceptualize marriage? Amy tells us, "I want to get married because it feels right, it makes sense and there are no reservations in working to be together with this specific person for the rest of my life." It is in this type of relationship that one can, in her words, feel, "so lucky to have" the other "each and everyday." It is in that type of relationship that, "Life really is better, together."

It is in that type of mature contemplative relationship that Ben can reflect on how well he knows Amy, and state that he wishes to marry her because he knows her to be, in his words, "Selfless, intelligent, motivated, adventurous", one he, loves "Spending time on the couch with... watching a movie with... riding a motorcycle with... and traveling the world with." It is in that type of relationship, where even the Kryptonite of the immature relationship, silence, turns into precious gold, and leads Ben to say how much he treasures a quiet evening with Amy.

Amy and Ben, with a mature and substantial relationship like yours, you are on the path to marital success. May your years together, indeed be long and many.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Effortless and Natural

On Sunday (10/7) I officiated Courtney and Mike’s wedding at Chateau Polonez in Houston, Texas. Here is what I shared with them and their guests during my personal remarks:

One of the most obvious things about Courtney and Michael is that they are really and truly best friends, not just lovers. So much so that they make their relationship look and feel natural and effortless. How do they do this?

Well, one of the things I have learned is that paradoxically it takes a lot of time and practice to make something like that look natural! Now that may sound comical, but it is true. Courtney and Michael understood this way back, and so even though they knew they were soul mates from the beginning, they took their relationship slowly step by step, tried it out in different environments, put a lot of practice into their journey together, and gave their love time to mature like a fine wine.

Of course, practice and time are not enough. You have to be practicing the right stuff. But how do you know you are? Well, I believe you have the best shot at that, when you are open to learning from each other.

Now if you know anything about Courtney and Mike, you know how much they believe in each other. You know how much they admire each other. You know how much they value each other's perspective. When you truly believe in someone, value that person's perspective and admire that person you can learn so much. When you know that this is mutual, well, you can learn even more. Indeed, with Courtney and Michael, you can see how much they have learned and continue to learn from each other every day.

Only when you are truly open to learning from each other in such a fashion, can you really grow as individuals and as a couple, and be best friends too. And again, when you really practice and give that growth time to flourish, well, it just makes all that effort look, you guessed it, effortless and natural.

So, Courtney and Michael, as you are about to take your vows, we encourage you to continue this growth, continue to be best friends, continue on this journey of happiness, the whole time making it look effortless.

Monday, October 15, 2012

An Empathetic Couple

On Saturday (10/6), after I co-officiated Heather and Brian’s wedding with my good friend, Father Milt Raybould, in Carrollton, Texas, we raced down to the Barr Mansion in Austin, Texas to co-officiate Olive and Guillermo’s wedding. Here are the remarks I shared with this physician couple and their guests:

A few days after my second of four meetings with Olive and Guillermo, I was watching a podcast of a lecture by Alain de Botton, and it was as if he was speaking to my thoughts about this fascinating couple.

I don't know about you, but one of the things I look for in a physician, beyond capability, obviously, is empathy. I don't think I am alone in that sense. You see, De Botton reminds us that while we live in the West, in what we perceive as perfect meritocratic societies, we are still far from the ideal. There is still so much in our lives that is the result of luck, be it lucky genes, lucky circumstance of birth, luck of people we interact with. So, when we go to the doctor, we want our doctor to tell us we need to lose some of that weight, but to understand how hard it is too. We want our internist to explain our treatment options, and also understand that we might need to wait a few months to save up for the deductible, because our insurance policy has gotten even more sucky, than the last one we had. We want our pediatrician to explain the 12,000th time why that vaccination is safe and necessary, which we know already, but are still just a little freaked out about, because it is our child we are talking about here.

Now, what so struck me about Olive and Guillermo, is that even though I have never interacted with them in a professional medical capacity, I know I would be totally comfortable doing so. Their success due to perseverance and hard work, has not caused them to be judgmental about others. If anything, it has caused them to be so much more accepting and compassionate. You see this in how they describe growing up. You see this in how they describe the circuitous route of their professional education and experience. You see this in how they reflect on their love story, on their learning from each other, and in how they live their life together as a couple. For that, for this important lesson they embody, we all owe them a debt of gratitude.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Humor is Vital

Saturday (10/6) I co-officiated Heather and Brian’s wedding with my good friend, Father Milt Raybould, in Carrollton, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests at this intimate wedding:

Heather and Brian are such a fun couple! They don't take themselves too seriously. They find humor in challenging situations. They brighten a room when they walk into it. Is it any surprise that this is the first of 160 brides I have officiated for who actually tried her hand at standup comedy.

Now, some people might make light of the importance of comedy. (See what I did there?) The Jewish tradition though does not. The Talmud recounts a story of a sage who encountered the immortal prophet Elijah in the marketplace. The sage asked Elijah if he could tell him of all the people there who surely had a share in the World to Come. Elijah pointed out two people in the crowd and disappeared. The sage approached the two, and he asked them who they were and what they did. He surely expected them to tell him of their great learning or marked piety. Not so. They told him that they were just two people who possessed a good sense of humor. They explained that they would walk through the marketplace, and whenever they would see someone who looked sad or despondent, they would cheer that person up, maybe tell a joke or two, and leave the person in good spirits. And this was apparently why Elijah and by extension God had thought so highly of them.

This is, in my opinion, one of the deepest stories in the Talmud. It reminds us how important it is to increase happiness in the world, how helping people through fun can be so valuable, and how vital humor is to every human relationship.

Heather and Brian, in the ways you interact with each other and with the world, you show us this is a lesson you know already. So continue to exhibit a playful spirit, continue to have fun with each other, and continue to bring happiness into the world. Through this you will inherit your share not only in the World to Come, but in the hearts of your friends and family.