Monday, July 27, 2015

Six Roses

Sunday evening (7/26) I officiated Leah and Sebastian's wedding ceremony at La Caille in Sandy, Utah. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Lifelong learning means cultivating the ability to live with ambiguity, cherishing the willingness to question, and treasuring the courage to change your mind, when warranted.

Leah gets this, and in fact ties this type of thinking to her Jewish identity: "My Jewish identity," she says, "has taught me to ask “why” a lot, and question matters in my life, not just to believe in things I am told, but to find the reasoning behind that belief. Judaism has taught me that I can’t follow people or matters blindly, and when I work with within a system, I believe it is extremely important to have your own moral compass. My Jewish identity taught me that it’s important to do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do... It's okay to see the ambiguity in life, and life’s questions that arise and to sometimes debate and not be sure about the answer to every question."

Sebastian too has followed this type of journey in seeking out his spiritual path: "I mainly asked myself" he writes, "what were the needs for my spirituality and I came to the conclusion that no one religion could answer my needs. What I found most important were broader concepts which transcend any one religion, and which are common values and morals shared amongst all people of good will."

It is this flexibility, this willingness to live with ambiguity, the openness to changing one's mind, that allowed Leah and Sebastian to come together. Leah says: "I always thought because I was so picky, fiercely independent, and my standards were so high, that I wouldn’t get married until I was at least in my late thirties, and I had found peace with that realization, but that’s because I didn’t know a man like Sebastian existed. "Sebastian echoes and augments this, "I was never in a rush to marry and I didn’t really have a timeline per say to getting married, it was always about finding the right person." So, even though Leah says that first she said, "I told him that he seemed like a nice guy, but that I was done with the dating scene," she was willing to question herself and change her mind, when the right guy arrived.

The interesting and somewhat ironic fact about a willingness to question, change and live with ambiguity, is that it actually can clarify and cement the few really important things at the core of your being. This is perhaps why Leah's mom told her, “I know you’ll be okay once I pass away because you’re a good person with a good Jewish heart." Sebastian echoed this thought on his first date with Leah. Listen to her tell it: "He bought me a bouquet of roses. When he handed me the bouquet of flowers, he asked me how many there were and what I thought the significance of that number was. I saw that there were six roses and I had no idea what the significance was of the number six. He told me he bought me six roses because the Star of David has six points on it. He wanted to tell me that he loved me and who I was. He loved and accepted my Jewish heart."

When we recognize life's many ambiguities, and the few ideas that form our core, it clarifies another important idea. It clarifies, in Sebastian's words, the imperative to, "Seize the moment and seize the opportunity... I did that with Leah because I love her with all my heart." Leah underlines his words beautifully: "Because I understand the fragility of this life, it has made me realize that I love Sebastian with all my heart and he loves me all of his heart... When you have that type of relationship and connection with someone, it is only right to start your lives and journey together as soon as possible as husband and wife."

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Began with a Salute

Sunday evening (7/19) I officiated Reba and Justin’s wedding ceremony at the Poetry Springs Events in Terrell, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Fortunately for Reba and Justin, they met while serving in the National Guard, which does not prohibit fraternization. When I first spoke to Reba and Justin, I couldn't help but playfully ask if he had in the past, when they met and started dating, saluted her due to their differing ranks, and her commission. (He had, most of the time, at least...)

I recently considered though how a what a salute conveys might be really apt for dating, and deciding on a mate. You have to look back at possible origins of the salute to see what I mean.
According to the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps Historian in Fort Lee, Virginia, "One romantic legend has it that today’s military salute descended from the medieval knight's gesture of raising his visor to reveal his identity as a courtesy on the approach of a superior. Another even more fantastic version is that it symbolizes a knight's shielding his eyes from the dazzling beauty of some high-born lady sitting in the bleachers of the tournament."

Now, take one look at Captain Villanueva here, and the second explanation does not seem fantastical at all. Also, Justin implies that the first reason might not fully fit their relationship, as officer and airman. He says that Reba was first interested in him, BECAUSE in their very first interaction he spoke confidently, bluntly and plainly to her, in a way that most Staff Sergeants don’t speak to Captains. However, if we delve a little more into the essence of the first reason, not deference, but revealing your identity, it really does fit well.

Military life may be renowned for its camaraderie, but it can be lonely too. As Reba says, "I loved traveling in the military, but I think it was spending a New Year’s Eve in Paris without a date, that made me feel alone. I guess I finally had the need to want to share my life with someone." It was, perhaps this realization that led Reba to open up (to reveal her true identity or essence, if you will) to Justin, when they subsequently met at a party. "Reba and I," says Justin," ended up off in a corner in deep conversation for several hours, ignoring everyone else at the party." Reba says that she was, "really impressed not only by how innately intelligent he was," but by his character. As Reba adds, "I ended up really liking him at the end of the night and wanted to talk to him more."

As Justin tells it, in short order, he and Reba became inseparable. And as time went on, and with more experiences and challenges that military life throws at a couple, they not only revealed their mutual identities in the spirit of the salute; they found their own and each other's essences, and with it a deep and wonderful connection. And so, Justin could state with surety, "Reba is my best friend and confidant, and there is no other woman I would ever want in my life." And Reba could echo that, saying, "With Justin, I feel like I am finally home."

And so today, what began on a faraway military base with a smart salute, today they will make official under the Chuppah, which symbolizes coming home. Reba and Justin, may you continue to enjoy the deep connection you have built, and may your home be a true  בית נאמן, a faithful home, to you both and to the family you establish here today.

Lose Yourself

Saturday evening (7/18) Reverend Allen Grant and I co-officiated Rachel and Robert’s wedding ceremony at the Perot Museum in Dallas, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Some might think that our general views about the world, would have no impact on our chances of success in the marital game. Common sense tells me otherwise. If, for instance, you think that you have an absolute monopoly on the truth and innermost thoughts of the Creator, will you possibly carry that understanding to spousal differences?  

This is why I love this cosmopolitan couple's shared observation that Robert puts so well: "I was exposed to a large number of religious views during my time on ships and found that almost all religions, be it Christian, Muslim, Judaism, Shinto, Hindu, Buddhism, or anything else all preach a similar message-be good to others and yourself." In this Robert states something very deep at the core of Rachel and his understanding as an interfaith couple: neither of them has a monopoly on the universal truth, and so certainly both are far from having a monopoly on any truth related to their relationship.

The last part of that statement, though, might be the most important. If there is any universal truth out there, one we could even ground in science, it is this: “Be good to yourself, and be good to others.” If you listen to Rachel and Robert talk about each other and their journey together, you know that challenges they have faced together have helped them hone this ability to be kinder and more loving to themselves, as well as to each other, and to the rest of their world.

Rachel puts the degree of their mutual love resulting from this journey of learning so well. Listen up, this is really something: “It is a little cliché, but I... know Robert is the person I want to spend the rest of my days with because he makes me laugh. Saying that doesn’t really do justice to what I mean when I say he makes me laugh. I mean he makes me completely lose it when we need that escape from the stressors in life. I have noticed at times when I am very frustrated with something he actively finds ways to make me bust out into a rolling-on-the-floor, clutching-my-stomach, tears-rolling-down-my-cheeks laugh, and to be able to completely lose yourself in a laugh like that is one of the most wonderful feelings in the world."

I would disagree with only one thing - I don't think it's cliché at all. Though Shakespeare said, "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players," true love should be the one exception to the Bard’s rule. True love means you can shed all pretenses; you can take off all the masks that hide you from the world, and throw your head back and laugh. When you have that one person who can help you do just that, well, that is THE most wonderful thing in the world, indeed.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

One Plus One Equals Way More Than Two

Saturday evening I officiated Ashley and Tim’s wedding ceremony at the Hard Rock Hotel in Cancun, Mexico. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Most American Jews come from Eastern Europe. One of the most fascinating slogans in the fight for freedom in the region Ashley's ancestors hail from was "Two plus two always equals four", a popular slogan in the Polish Solidarity movement. You see, the core of Communist doctrine was that the party was always correct, and so if it said that two plus two equals five, than that was true. Solidarity set out to counter that.

Now, as they say, even a broken clock is right twice a day, and finding your soul mate can be an instance, that defies math. If you read between the lines of Ashley's description of Tim's affect on her, you see that one plus one equals way more than two.

"When I met Tim," she says, "I had never met someone who I knew just worked so well with me. He was handsome, funny, intelligent, driven and so outgoing and well liked. Most importantly, Tim makes me feel my best. I had never been dating someone who made me feel like my best person before. Even my family noticed how he made me a better person." Forget the total, her one grew exponentially, because of him!

In fact, as Tim reminds us, in speaking of Ashley, we, our essence, our happiness, grows because of our relationships with all who we love and who return that love: "Besides all of her gleaming qualities (she’s hilarious, beautiful, one of the most admirable dentists in the entire field, a great friend, sister and daughter, she literally has dozens, if not hundreds, of people who would gladly give the shirt off their back for her, among other items), she loves her family and she loves being with my family... I think that her knowing that her family is happy, in turn, makes her happy."

Both Ashley and Tim speak movingly about their mutual feeling of having found their match, as Tim puts it, what Ashley calls their Beshert. This Yiddish word means match or match made in heaven. However, it can also mean lucky. So Ashley's use of this rich multi-layered word echoes Tim's confidence that in finding Ashley, he feels like, "the luckiest guy in the world."

But how do you know you have found your match, your Beshert? How do you know that you are indeed that lucky? I believe that if we look closely at what Ashley and Tim say, we find that answer hidden in plain sight. You know you have found that special someone, that Beshert, that match made in heaven, when your one plus one equals way more than two. You know you are truly the luckiest person in the world, when each "one" grows exponentially, and when in turn the combination of your potential, your growth, and your happiness, becomes simply and purely immeasurable.