Saturday, December 31, 2016

A Genuine Relationship

Friday evening, I officiated Chantal and Alex’s wedding at Bay 7 on the American Tobacco Campus, in Durham, North Carolina. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

So, this is a serious couple, who are also seriously smart. I mean, as my dad would say, between them they have more degrees than a thermometer (hashtag, dad joke). And their serious and extraordinary endeavors have always figured into their relationship. To wit, I always ask couples how they met. I think, though, that this is the first time I got this answer, "Alex and I met in Boston while he was starting his post-doc at Harvard and I was part-time working for a rowing team." I am not even sure which one is more impressive, a post doc at Harvard, or a Jew coaching a rowing team!
Now, serious and smart does not mean unromantic. Listen to Alex, "When we first met Chantal was working as a rowing coach at a local college which meant four a.m. wake up calls almost every day. Being the diligent suitor and devout coffee enthusiast I would get up with her, wake the neighbors by grinding coffee at the crack of dawn, and make delicious coffee." A Little nerdy, sure, but not unromantic! And what he leaves out, Chantal fills in, "In the beginning of our relationships, I got really sick and he made sure to bring me soup and flowers everyday." Flowers - Very romantic; Soup - In the running for Jewish Mother MVP - most valuable partner. Hey, I said he was really smart!

And Chantal is no slacker in going the extra mile for Alex either. Alex describes their first visit to Israel together, "On our first trip to Israel we did the obligatory familial tour, traveling to the north to meet Chantal's family on their kibbutz and then down to Jerusalem to spend time with my grandparents. Chantal spent almost an hour watching opera with my grandfather as I slept in a comfortable chair. She does not like opera." Now that, my friends is a test of endurance, and you thought her rowing was impressive. No wonder Alex decided this one was marriage material.

But what really makes them a great match is that they feel so comfortable with each other, that they can shed all pretenses. As Chantal says, "I love that I can be my goofy, genuine self with him. Though at times he can come off as very serious and professional, I know and love that he can be goofy with me too." That, my friends is the true test of a genuine relationship built to last.

With all of this, it is no surprise that Alex says, "I could not have found anyone more loving and more supportive than her." Nor is it a surprise that Chantal says, "He empowers and motivates me to be my very best, and knows how to comfort me," or that she says, "I desire to marry Alex because he is the love of my life."

Thursday, November 24, 2016

The Meaning of Life (with apologies, in advance, to Monty Python)

This special blog post is NOT from a recent wedding. These ideas have been percolating in my mind, and I thought sharing them might be beneficial.

Ever since I was 17, I have been an existentialist. I do not mean by this that I fully understood what that meant. I am still not sure I fully do. I am certainly not a trained philosopher. And most certainly, leaving Orthodox Judaism behind has changed what being an existentialist means to me. All the same, an existentialist I was, I am, and will be.

The way I understand existentialism is as a positive form of nihilism. Many people see nihilism as negative in its essence. I do not believe this is true.  I believe it is neutral. All nihilism means to me is that there is no inherent, taken for granted, meaning in life. It does not mean that it cannot (have meaning). Existentialism comes along and says, life has no inherent meaning, but not only can it, it should. Every one of us gets to (and to live life fully must) decide what that meaning is. That meaning can be different for different people. It can also be different for the same person, at different times and different stages in life.

This means that some of the questions we frequently ask ourselves are the wrong questions. It is only human to ask, “Why am I here?” It is only human to ask, “Why did this happen to me?” It is only human to ask, “What inherent meaning does my life, in general, and this moment, specifically, have?” It is only human to ask these questions, but they are unanswerable.

We must accept that these questions are unanswerable, and ask entirely different questions. We must ask, “Now that I am here, what meaning will I give to my life?” We must ask, “Now that this has happened to me, what meaning will I give to it?” We must ask, “What approach and action will I take, that will give meaning to my life, in general, and specifically to this moment?” 

I purposefully phrase these questions in the singular first person. If existentialism acknowledges that there is no inherent, taken for granted, meaning in life, how on earth can I tell you what your meaning should be, be you the singular you or the plural you. I can tell you what meaning I have found. That may help you find yours; nothing more, nothing less.

This does not mean there are no absolutes. In fact, an inherent absolute truth that flows from this is that every single person must be accorded the opportunity to find their own positive meaning in life, and that necessarily, your quest for positive meaning cannot impede others’ opportunity to find theirs. In other words, as Hillel the Elder stated what we call today the Golden Rule, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to others. That is the entire Torah; the rest is commentary. Now, go study.”
Hillel, the Elder
(From the Menorah in front of the Knesset,
the Israeli parliament)
This also does not mean that it is all about you. Once again, if we accept that every single person must be accorded the opportunity to find their own positive meaning in life, it is about everyone, including you. And, though you must find your own meaning, seldom can that be done in a vacuum. It is through interaction with the world that we find the deepest meaning (which) life, in the short term and in the long term, may have in store for us. If we take this approach, almost inevitably, we make the world a better place, too.

It is this existential approach that has helped me in my life. This helped me, as I stood over my young mother’s grave, and five years later, as I carried my child in my arms to a grave not far from hers. This helped me, as I answered students’ unanswerable questions on September 12, 2001. This helped me, as I followed my convictions, left a way of life and a good living, and ventured out into the wilderness.

So, how do I answer the question, “Now that I am here, what meaning will I give to my life?” How do I answer the question, “What approach and action will I take, that will give meaning to my life, in general?” I am blessed to have two professional pursuits, which I am passionate about. I find great meaning in working every day to help build a system that will make homelessness in Dallas rare, brief and nonrecurring. I also find great meaning in helping interfaith couples have the wedding ceremonies that are most meaningful to them. I am also blessed to have three children. I find great meaning in raising children that are and will be free to (and able to) answer this question, for themselves.  This means that they may answer it in very different ways than I do, and that is OK. In fact, it should be celebrated. 

And how do I answer the question, “Now that this has happened to me, what meaning will I give to it?” How do I answer the question, “What approach and action will I take, that will give meaning, specifically, to this moment?” Though moments vary, and meaning evolves, the answers in the previous paragraph apply still. In a life grounded in existential meaning, the moment contains in it a call to recommit to those things that give my life meaning, in general. 

This I present as what worked and continues to work for me. To paraphrase Hillel, this is my commentary. You, the reader, must figure out how to answer these questions for yourself. You must figure out what your commentary is, so now, as Hillel instructed, go study.

I Believe in Love

Saturday evening, I officiated Deynna and Adam’s trilingual wedding ceremony, at the Westin Downtown Hotel in Austin, Texas. During the ceremony they asked me to include this reading from Pope Francis: “Many think differently, feel differently, seeking God or meeting God in different ways. In this crowd, in this range of religions, there is only one certainty that we have for all: We are all children of God, we believe in love.” Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

I have officiated almost 340 weddings in the last eight years, but this wedding is a first. Now, you are probably wondering what I mean. Well, this is the first time I am officiating a wedding for a couple that practically bumped into the Pope! If you have not heard the story, you should ask them. It's heartwarming and funny. And, this is the first couple who asked to include in their ceremony a reading from the Pope, as you heard before. That was not my idea. It was theirs.

Now, this reading has a fascinating background. As I learned when I researched this, it has been a long tradition of Popes to put out prayer requests, encouraging the faithful to pray for different things. This request started a new tradition, it was done by video, and a really well produced one at that. You should definitely watch it. (No, not now; at the reception!")

The Pope ends the video with a request, "I hope you will spread my prayer request this month, that sincere dialogue among men and women of different faiths may produce the fruits of peace and justice." And to punctuate this message, he includes four religious leaders from four different religions, each simply stating, "I believe in love. I believe in love."
Adam made Deynna believe in love. Listen to her words, "Adam is everything I was looking for my whole life. He is the smartest person I know. He has the most amazing personality. My family and close friends love him. The most important thing is that he is my best friend and I can share everything with him! He is my partner in this journey of life."

And Deynna made Adam believe in love. Listen to his words: "After getting to know Deynna... I knew that she was the woman I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. She is smart, determined, motivating, loving, spontaneous, and she is my best friend. I am very excited to be spending the rest of my life with my best friend."

The Pope's words and Deynna and Adam's words reminded me of something a long gone sage once said. The Ancient Rabbis tell us that Jerusalem was destroyed because of one great sin, Sinat Chinam, unwarranted hatred, hatred for no particular reason. And so, in the previous century, the First Chief Rabbi of Palestine, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, said that only one thing will bring about the peace and redemption of Jerusalem, Ahavat Chinam, unwarranted love, love for no particular reason.

Now, it's just up to you and me, the message is clear, the path is known, the course is set. All we have to do, men and women of different faiths, is state together, "I believe in love."

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Government Paperwork

Monday evening, I officiated Ashley and John’s wedding ceremony at The Balcony Ballroom, in Metairie, Louisiana. Here are the words I shared with them and their guests:

Don't you love government paperwork? What, you don't? Well, you should, because you have it to thank for being here tonight. Yes, some couples meet at a bar, some meet online, others remember gazing across the room, at a party, and locking eyes with the one they would marry. Not, this couple, though...

Listen to how John tells it: "I was changing departments at work, and while checking out of one department, I needed her signature (among many others). She was the only one who answered her phone, so I went to her office." Now, if that is not the stuff of bodice rippers, I don't know what is...

Of course, humor aside, the truth is, that it does not matter how you meet. And, I did leave out the slightly more interesting part of the story. Ashley happened to be wearing a t shirt, rather than her military blouse that day, due to the heat, so John saw her tattoos, and he being no body ink slouch himself struck up a conversation, and they compared notes, or skin, as it may be.

Regardless, that type of initial meeting is just fate; there is little you can do to control that. What matters is, what happens next. Do you just squander the moment, or do you act on that fateful encounter, and forge it into destiny?

This couple chose the latter. As Ashley says, "There was an instant connection. Since the day we have met, we have spoken, literally, every day... John and I have traded some of our deepest, most personal secrets, stories and fears... It's almost like we can read each other's minds." Wow. They did NOT squander the moment.

And, though I said humor aside, you have to have humor to make a relationship truly great. As Ashley says, "We make fun of each other, in a loving way... He knows every single button of mine, and he pushes them to no end... I know all his triggers too, so it can get fun."

That tells me, that this is a very mature relationship, which means that, though Ashley and John are very much in love, it is not just love they share. They share a deep friendship too. As John indeed says, "Ashley is above anything else, my very best friend... Our dynamic is stellar." That is why Ashley can comfortably say, "Before John, I never really thought I would get married, but after being with John, I now know I could not marry anyone else."

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Friendship, Forgiveness, Compromise, Sacrifice, and Love

Saturday evening, I co-officiated Kelli and Jeff’s wedding ceremony, with Reverend John Sorrell, at the Travis Park United Methodist Church, in San Antonio, Texas. Here are the words I shared with them and their guests:

Even if you try to put yourself in another's shoes, it is impossible not to see the world mostly from our own vantage point. This is why many times, clergymen will begin speaking by asking a question, regarding a theological or textual point, that seems extremely intriguing to them, but that the average person could care less about...

So, now that I have pointed out the folly of such an approach, allow me to do it anyway, because this is really a juicy item. In the Talmud, the foundational book of Jewish Law, on the first page of Tractate Sotah, an ancient rabbi makes a fascinating statement: "Forty days before the creation of a child, a heavenly voice issues forth and proclaims, the daughter of A is for B."

What does that mean? Kelli, in writing about her relationship with Jeff, elucidates this Talmudic passage: "I have grown up believing that fairytales really can come true and that God has that special person already picked out for you. Some people find that person quickly and for others it takes more time. I am so grateful God led me to Jeff when he did." I assume by "quickly", she means people like her, Jeff and her mom, who were in 6th grade, when they met their soulmates, and by "others take take time", she means late bloomers like her dad, who was in 8th grade...

Jeff backs up what Kelli says, and agrees that this seems like a match made in heaven: "Kelli and I have always been very compatible... We truly do operate under the same principles and belief system. We have had similar types of friends, we each study hard, we each work hard... The list goes on and on."

Now, the same Talmudic passage quotes another ancient rabbi, who says, "They only pair a woman with a man according to his deeds." Now, that would seem to contradict the other rabbi's statement, that the match is made before you even come into being, and the Talmud suggests a somewhat simplistic resolution. I would like to suggest though, that there is no contradiction.

It is entirely possible for one to find his or her match quite early, just as this couple did. And you may believe that this match was made in heaven. The question is, what do you do next? Do you sit back, and say, "OK, God, you made this match; now make it work"? Or, do you accept this match, as a gift of potential, a sketch for what might be, and get to work, to make it into the best relationship possible, by constant learning and self-improvement?

Well, I think you know which option I am indicating might be a better bet... Listen to Jeff expound on that: "We have been there for one another through thick and thin and experiencing so many of life's challenges with her by my side has taught me so much. Interestingly enough, I think it has taught her a lot as well!" Kelli agrees when she says, "We have experienced some of life’s sweetest milestones and toughest trials, celebrating, laughing and crying together along the way. I have learned so much about friendship, forgiveness, compromise, sacrifice, and love..."

And they both understand that marriage is the next step, where you double down on your commitment to learn and grow together. As Kelli says, "Marriage... represents a daily promise to one another to continue to love and accept, support and care for each other. Marriage is saying that, without a doubt, there is no one in the entire world that I want to experience life with." That is why Jeff can confidently say what is mutually true, "I’m so incredibly blessed and I cannot wait to spend the rest of my life with her."

Saturday, November 5, 2016

They Have It Made

Friday evening, I officiated Brittany and Bryan’s wedding ceremony at The Astorian, in Houston, Texas. Here are the words I shared with them and their guests:

I KNOW this couple has it made. Now, you may ask me how I can be so confident. That is a legitimate question. Simple. They work together, not only in the same company, but in the same office.
Now, not every couple can do that, and that is totally OK. You can have two people that love each other very much, that are a good match for a loving relationship, and are not a great match for the working environment. You certainly have many more cases of vice versa. So nothing I am saying here is to judge anyone.

However, I do believe that a couple that can manage both is extremely lucky, and have something worth cherishing and worth admiring.
What is it that is at the core of the relationship of couples that are able to manage this feat? Well, I suppose that is worthy of serious study, and perhaps someone will undertake this, if it has not been done yet.

Allow me, though, to offer a hypothesis, based on what I have learned from Brittany and Bryan. I really think it is simple, and that it boils down to one word: comfort. What stood out to me in interacting with both of them is how comfortable each are in their own skins, as individuals and as a couple. You could really sense that in their verbal, as well as their non-verbal communication.

Brittany sums it up best in a short paragraph that sounds like something that Bryan could write too: "I never really ever thought about marriage until I met Bryan, but I knew that he was the one I wanted to spend my life with. He was the one who always seemed to make me feel comfortable. He loves me for who I am. He looks past my flaws and just loves me for me... He does his best to help me be stronger and believe in myself more every day."

That is really what comfort is all about, and that is their secret, they love each other for who they are, they look past each other's flaws, and they help each other become stronger every day. You can't ask for more than that.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Big Deal!

Saturday evening, I co-officiated Claire and Kace's wedding ceremony with Dr. George Mason, at the Four Seasons Dallas at Las Colinas, in Irving, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

It's interesting; we find ourselves in the midst of struggle. And in some ways the point of disagreement at the core of this struggle, is the question of how much control do we really have over our fates. Is success to be attributed mostly to us and our talents? Is failure utterly our fault and worthy of derision? Or perhaps, we must be more humble, and recognize that so much of our good fortune and great privilege, is beyond our control. Perhaps, we must recognize that, conversely, there, but for the grace of God, or karma or luck, go we.

Claire and Kace, and how they came to stand before us here today, remind us of that. After all, it's not that when Claire first lay her eyes on Kace, she was not thinking of him as a good mate. She just didn't think he was a good mate for her...

Listen to Claire in her own words (you really can't make this stuff up...): "Initially, I thought Kace would be the perfect match for my sweet friend, Cori. He was charismatic, unapologetically himself and made everyone around him feel special." She thought she might have some convincing to do, because of, well, Kace's approach during that initial meeting: "I think originally, Kace was trying to network and looking for the next 'big deal'..." She tried to make the match, but was ultimately unsuccessful. "Eventually... I realized there wasn’t a love connection between Cori and Kace. As a failed matchmaker, he ultimately wore me down and asked me on a date…"

Now, Kace picks up the story from here, and with Claire's parents standing so close, he definitely deserves points for honesty: "I can remember telling my dad I was going on a date that night, and he asked, 'Do you really like her?' I responded by telling him, 'Not really. I kind of just feel like taking a girl out to a nice dinner.' [Is this guy a hopeless romantic or what?] We went to Oak for dinner in the Design District, and my views quickly changed. I was immediately attracted to her intelligence, self-confidence, humor, and honesty. I had never found another girl like that, and I still have not."

Now, he definitely redeems himself at the end there, and though we might laugh at the comedy of errors that began with Claire's lackluster matchmaking and continued with Kace's quickly to evaporate cluelessness about the prize he had landed, again, there is a profound message here. Obviously, in all areas of life, we must put one foot in front of the other, and try our best. However, some of the best things in life come to us by no merit of our own. (And, hopefully, as few times as possible for each of us, the converse is true.)

And, so when a wonderful thing happens to us, like Claire realizing that Kace is HER match, like Kace realizing mid-date, that this ONE is different, we are obliged not to be matter-of-fact about it. We are called upon to be joyously thankful and appreciative for the invisible hand of luck or providence guiding us towards that for which we hold no given claim.

Claire, however, says it much better than I ever could, "I guess you could say that Kace stumbled into my life and never quite left. Loud, clumsy, loyal, overly comfortable in a way that often makes me uncomfortable, he is the most genuine, kind and amazing person that I have ever met. Little did Kace know, the day we met he did find a BIG DEAL… a wife!"

Monday, October 24, 2016

You and I

Sunday evening, I officiated Dana and Daniel’s wedding ceremony at the McKinney Flour Mill in McKinney, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

One of the things that stood out to me about Dana and Daniel is their gratitude. Gratitude should never be underestimated in its importance, and conversely there is scarcely a worse quality than being ungrateful.

They both express profound gratitude for having found each other. As Dana says, "We just have so much fun being together. Everything feels easy and right." And as Daniel says, "We’ve both had pretty exciting lives, and we’ve enjoyed sharing them with each other."

They not only express gratitude for having found each other. They are profoundly grateful to their parents. As Dana says, "I grew up in a very stable and loving environment, where my curiosity was allowed to flourish...  I was and continue to be very loved, and... incredibly fortunate." And as Daniel says, "Mom and Dad were always hard at work... managing to never leave my brother or me wanting for anything.  Their work-ethic and strong wills - I tear-up just thinking of..." And, both Dana and Daniel are profoundly grateful that their families have come together and love and appreciate each other. As Daniel says in a slightly folksy turn of phrase, "Our families get along like peas and carrots!" As someone who has officiated many weddings, I will tell you, THAT is nothing to "sneeze" at.

Dana and Daniel's gratitude reminded me of one of the most meaningful readings I have ever found. It so wonderfully expresses how despite the challenges we each face, how grateful we should be for, well, just being. This small piece of prose is poetry-like, which might be surprising, since it was written by a scientist, Richard Dawkins:

"The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here. We privileged few, who won the lottery of birth against all odds..."

Dana and Daniel not only won the lottery of birth, they won the lottery of excellent parenting, the lottery of great families and the lottery of love. And so, they are utterly and profoundly grateful for this great fortune.

It is, therefore, hard not to pray that Daniel's wish for their future come true, "Perhaps one day we’ll be sitting on a porch swing - or some other fantastic cliché - and be able to look back at our life and just grin. That’s all any of us can ask."

Not a bad "ask". Not a bad "ask" at all.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

No Better Time than Right Now

Saturday evening, I co-officiated Dominique and Larry’s wedding ceremony, with Reverend Rhonda Anders, at Chateau Lemoyne, in New Orleans, Louisiana. Here are the words I shared with them and their guests:

I ask every person I marry to write an autobiographical essay. Some approach this task with more relish than others, like Dom here, so much so that they not only write a well written story, but write in the third person! And sometimes people write essays that so speak for themselves in terms of what one can learn from them, that my task becomes one of just finding the right quotes, and the couple's words speak for themselves. THIS is one of those times.

I was especially intrigued by how Dom wrote about how she and Larry met:

"Larry came into Dom’s world out of nowhere. The first time they met was at a friend’s birthday party, which the meeting didn’t really stick on them until the second time they were re-introduced. [You might need to get your eyes checked, Larry... - DSG] When they met for the second time they spent the whole night talking about hip-hop music... They ended up walking and talking for 18 blocks that night.

Dom found out from that night what she continues to love so much about Larry to this day: Larry’s drive to win all of his goals in life is an inspiration, Larry’s confidence in himself, his transparency and love of the future to come, and the most important... Larry’s ability to not only be kind to people he cares about but to everyone he meets."


Speaking of love, listen to Larry's simple yet profound statement about their mutual feelings for each other: "Our love is strong and it is hard to describe." And, though Dom highlights his confidence, he is not too shy to share a vulnerability some guys would hide: "There are many thing in life that are uncertain or we are unsure of, but with Dom and I, it is the one thing I am sure of."

Double wow!

Now, I have the privilege, in asking people to write their essays, to ask what might be uncouth coming from anyone else: Why do you want to get married, and why now?

Larry says, "Besides Dom being the one I want to spend the rest of my life with, for lack of a better answer, it just feels 'right'... We have been through a lot together and when I proposed last May, everything felt perfect and Dom felt the same way... Not only will the day itself be memorable but it signifies our future together and what is to come."

Dom, again speaking in the third person has a pretty cool answer, an almost mystical one, in fact: "Dom believes that Larry coming into her life was a gift from God. It didn’t have to be now or ever but as long as she could smile like she does when she wakes up next to him every morning... there is no better time than right now."

Sunday, October 16, 2016

You Have to Keep Climbing

Saturday evening, I co-officiated Aly and Andrew’s wedding ceremony, with Monsignor Lawrence Frederick, at Junior League in Little Rock, Arkansas. Here are the words I shared with them and their guests:

I am firmly committed to the idea that the wedding should be about the couple. However, I feel like I just have to say first, thank you Aly and Andrew, for making Father Fred part of this wedding. He is a legendary figure at Andrew’s alma mater, and it is an honor to stand here by his side. I fully intend to work this sentence into most of my conversations from now on, “When I was talking to my friend, who worked on the Mercury project…”

Aly and Andrew’s shared alma mater, University of Arkansas (Go, Razorbacks!) is central to their love story, since that is where they met. Andrew confesses that up to the point he met Aly, “My grades were always good but I was having a rough first couple of years because I felt as though something was missing.” (Hmmm… What could that be?) He continues, “My good friends were hanging out with a group of people and I ended up tagging along one day. While meeting up with that group of people at a football tailgate in Little Rock, I got to really know Aly Hueber. We hit it off well and I even gave up going to the game to get to know her more.” Well, if football in Arkansas is anything like it is in Texas, all I can say is Oy Vey! He says that, “She was something special.” His evidence, by the way, is solid: “She found me funny, interesting, and entertaining!” (Bright girl!) He says that he felt the exact same way about her.

Interestingly, their stories of their first few years at college parallel each other, but Aly has an interesting prelude to the story Andrew tells about that fateful day he ditched football for her, “I entered my freshman year and rushed a sorority… and made some...  amazing friends during my first two years in school. By my junior year I had a circle of friends that hung out about every weekend. I heard through these friends about "Sprick" quite a few times but hadn't met him. At a birthday party… I met this mystery guy for the first time and didn't think much of it.” (Ouch!)
Don’t worry; quickly their stories converged, “Andrew and I talked and laughed the rest of the day. I was amazed at how genuine and interested he was with me. He even skipped going into the football game to stay and spend time with me and my friends. I knew there was something different about him. I heard from Andrew the next day which confirmed he was different from most of the college guys I had met before. He wanted to see me again.”

Pretty quickly, these two feel for each other, and it wasn’t long before they knew that they were destined to be together and marriage was in the cards. And when this engineer proposed, his proposal – you can’t make this stuff up – centered on the idea of Pi. “He proposed on Pi Day, March 14,” Aly says, “and gave a beautiful speech about Pi being an infinite number similar to our infinite love. This was the moment I had been waiting for, but even better.”

Now, Aly and Andrew had one more symbolism, that was hidden in that proposal, so hidden they may not have even realized it. You see, I skipped over the time they took to build their relationship. During this time, they not only made the adjustments necessary to turn two into one. They even passed through the crucible of a long distance relationship, not only made it work, but saw it bring them even closer. They recognized what most sensible couples do. To make a relationship last, you must be prepared to embark on a continuous journey. The engagement, the wedding, and all subsequent milestones, are stops on the way up to the summit.

Now, like most Arkansans, both Aly and Andrew call the mountain upon which they became engaged, Mount Magazine. However, the United States Geological Survey refers to it as Magazine Mountain. Why? Because a “mount” refers to a peak, while a “mountain” refers to a ridge. (Thank you, Wikipedia!) Magazine Mountain is a ridge. On Magazine Mountain, you have to keep climbing to get to the summit, Signal Hill. That, my friends, is Aly and Andrew’s reminder, or signal, if you will, to us today: If you want your relationship to stretch to eternity, you have to keep climbing.

We Still Fly Together

Friday evening, I officiated Dana and Ethan’s wedding ceremony at Via Vecchia Winery, in Columbus, Ohio. Here are the words I shared with them and their guests:

I was inspired to write these remarks in the hometown of Picasso, Malaga. I was listening to a song, Let Your Hair Down by Magic, and it reminded me of Dana and Ethan and their relationship.

You see, one of the funny things about Dana and Ethan, and if you know them well, you know this, is that the origin story of their relationship is very honest, and decidedly unromantic... It might even be called utilitarian. Listen to Dana's description: "It all started at my friend, Megan’s, bachelorette party. One of my best friends, Alicia, was always on the prowl for tall guys for me and decided to ask this group of girls if any of them knew any single, tall guys. Right then Sharon (Ethan’s sister) said, “Uhh yeah, my brother!'" So, when the guy in the song says to his girl, "To me you are more than just skin and bones," well, actually the plight of the tall gal, even one as stunning as Dana, often revolves around most guys' basic egos regarding the length of said skin and bones.

Now, Dana's next words about this love story were really reminiscent of this song: "I’ve never felt more comfortable, confident, and truly loved in my whole life. He is funny, hard-working, giving, and protective in the best way possible." It's almost like she hears him saying the words of the song to her:

"Baby let your hair down
Let me run my fingers through it
We can be ourselves now
Go ahead, be foolish
No one's on the clock now
Lying in this simple moment
You don't gotta worry now
Just let your hair down"

Ethan himself, in his own words, talks about how in Dana he found what he had long been searching for, "companionship, someone to love and share life with, grow and learn together... I know I've finally met the right person... (with) a great heart.”

And lest you think these kids are starry eyed and naive, they have that one essential component in every lasting relationship - they drive each other just a tiny bit crazy. As, Dana admits, in what you know is mutual (somehow, us guys sometimes forget this) "He puts ups with my flaws... and shows me that he loves me all the time." Like the lover in the song says, "Even though... It's not always heaven, we still fly together."

So, we started this origin story with honesty, and with honesty we approach its conclusion. Because, one of the most important aspects critical to a marital relationship, is the ability to be yourself with your partner, to shed all pretenses. You have to have that one person, that regardless of how you are feeling or how your day has gone, with whom you can let your hair down, and say, "You don't gotta worry... It's only us here, only us here..."

Sunday, October 9, 2016

A New Dream

Saturday afternoon I officiated Monica and Ben’s wedding ceremony at the River Ranch Stockyards, in Fort Worth, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Sometimes, when I look out upon the world of today, I am struck by a seeming lack of empathy. Empathy, according to that great fount of all human knowledge, Wikipedia, is "the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within the other being's frame of reference, i.e., the capacity to place oneself in another's position." Arguably, one could place many of the problems we have encountered, from the Great Recession at home to ongoing conflicts abroad, at the doorstep of an inability or incapacity to "place oneself in another's position."

No doubt social scientists are and will continue to study why this happens in a society. In the meantime, I would like to posit a hypothesis. Perhaps, one of the reasons for this is that we, in American society, in the past few decades, have placed so much emphasis on "things" and their acquisition, that material goods have displaced some of our capacity for empathy. After all, as we are discovering in social psychology, much like your internet use, human emotions have only so much bandwidth, and if that bandwidth is taken up mostly by a love of things, it might leave less room for the love that Monica and Ben's faiths command us to have for our neighbors.

This is why spending time with Monica and Ben was reassuring to me. This is not only because in our first face to face, as opposed to FaceTime meeting, Ben showed up with a t shirt from a homelessness related charity event! (I spend most of my time on homelessness related issues, so I liked that.)  No, it is because this is emblematic of the passion this couple has for social justice, a passion that is central to their relationship, and which they put into practice.

Listen to Ben: "Monica (is) passionate, smart, funny, beautiful, and has a strong sense of purpose... Monica has made me a more kind, caring, thoughtful, and aware person. (Her) passion for social justice has helped me to better understand my privileges and how I can be a more aware and [wait for it... - DSG] empathetic person..."

Monica's choice of profession was guided by this very passion. As she says, "I’m... dedicated to teaching and working towards creating a more equitable education system in America..." (Well, you don't hear that every day!) And teachers love learning, and so she says that one of the things that attracted her to Ben (aside from his rugged good looks, of course...) was "his intelligence and his love of reading and learning..." True love of learning, implies that you are willing to, nay compelled to, ask questions, and not just settle for the way things are. So, not surprisingly, Monica observes that through Ben's love for her and for learning, he, in her words, "embraced my passions and supports my desire to make the world a more just place," and this made her love him even more.

In this, these two embrace the best of what each of their faiths has to offer. It is almost a given, that some American Catholics may have a point or two they disagree with the Church on, yet happily, especially in the last few years the Church has chosen to side with the powerless to the consternation of the powerful. And not for nothing does the old joke contend, that American Jews may live like Episcopalians, but still vote like Puerto Ricans.

Perhaps it is the very fact that Monica and Ben's generation came of age, just as we brought our world economy, obsessed with things and oblivious to people, crashing down, that they are and may continue to be, kinder to people, and less concerned with things. As we rebuild that world, some fret that they seem less eager to relive what we thought to be the American Dream. I don’t. I believe they wish to fashion a more inclusive dream. That dream seeks to enfranchise rather than disenfranchise, share rather than possess, use rather than consume.

And the empathy inherent in this new dream is just the kind conducive to a successful loving marital bond. So, Monica and Ben, continue in your relationship with each other and with the world to share, "the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within the other being's frame of reference," and you will have it made...

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Puzzle Pieces Fall into Place

Saturday evening I officiated Allison and Reed’s wedding ceremony at The Orion Ballroom in Dallas, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

One of the things that really impressed me about Allison and Reed, as individuals and as a couple, is that they are really solid, down to earth people, but at the same time, really deep. I had some really profound discussions with them, from which I feel I learned a lot. And when I sat down to write these remarks, I was reminded of a really deep song by the Waterboys, “The Whole of the Moon”. Allow me to quote a few lines:
I pictured a rainbow
You held it in your hands
I had flashes
But you saw the plan…
I was grounded
While you filled the skies…
I spoke about wings
You just flew
I wondered, I guessed and I tried
You just knew…
Yes, you climbed on the ladder
With the wind in your sails
You came like a comet
Blazing your trail…
I saw the crescent
You saw the whole of the moon
The whole of the moon

Nobody is really sure what Mike Scott, the Waterboys’ lead singer, meant when he wrote this song. Is he talking about a lover? It is quite possible to interpret the song this way. Many of us, when we find that someone, that fills our skies, might say something like Reed does, in answering the question of why he wishes to wed Allison now. He says that she is the missing piece to his puzzle. With her the crescent, becomes the whole of the moon. She changes the very shape of his existence. Going on 16 years now, every rainbow he has pictured, she has held in her hand, and only together, soaring over it, has he felt he could truly take flight.

Allison, by the way, answers this question, as to why she desires to wed Reed now, a little more practically, ”Because it’s been 16 years... Homeboy took his sweet time...” Now humor aside, there is great truth here. For many, if not most of us, there is a degree of gambling or at least making an educated guess, when we marry. To be blunt, how do I know that simply because I love the you of today, I will love the you of tomorrow? We hope that through seeing the crescent, we know what the rest of the moon looks like. For these two, however, no guessing or gambling is needed. They have been together, through thick and thin. They have seen in each other the whole of the moon.

Now, some speculate, that Mike Scott is, actually, talking about himself at different phases of life. And he is not saying there was anything wrong or deficient at the crescent phase. Most of the time when we draw a moon, we draw a crescent. The crescent is beautiful. It too lights in the midnight sky. Indeed, most couples who, like Allison and Reed, meet in college, get married in their twenties, when as individuals they are still in that crescent phase. As individuals, they each have yet to uncover who they really are. Not Allison and Reed, though. They have the privilege that few of us have, to meet each other each in their own individual crescent phase, and while together, to each grow into their own, patiently waiting for their individual puzzle pieces to fall into place, until they each could clearly see the whole of the moon in their individual lives.

The truth is we don’t know, nor does it matter, what Mike Scott meant, but I choose to believe both interpretations as valid, and in Allison and Reed, I see both. Indeed, their words about each other, individually and as a couple, make this well evident. As Allison says, in a sentiment mutually shared, “He is the one who motivates me to make changes, be who I really want to be… He stands by my side and always has my back... He always goes for what he wants, regardless of how hard it might be… We laugh at each other. [We are] sometimes stubborn and hard headed… but in the end - my life is with him. At the end of each day, he’s always the last one I want to see.”

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

It is No Dream

On Monday I officiated Lillian and Yaniv's wedding ceremony at a villa in Malaga, Spain. Here are the remarks I shared with their guests from across the globe:

If you ever visit Mount Rushmore in Wyoming, you will see the faces of four presidents carved into the mountain. Only one of them lived into the 20th Century, Theodore Roosevelt. His daughter, Alice, the Kim Kardashian of her day, if Kim had brains and wit, in addition to her other, ahem, assets, knew her father better than most. She said of him, that he was the bride at every wedding, the corpse at every funeral...

I am always conscious of Alice's witty criticism, and if I have one absolute, it is that the wedding is about the couple. So, I am always hesitant to talk about myself, because honestly who cares? It is only when I have a personal story that can help flesh out something about the couple that I include it.

Like Yaniv, I grew up in Israel, and I spent my high school years in Jerusalem. In tenth grade, pretty much on a whim, I competed in my high school's Bible contest, the first stage of the International Bible Contest, and won. That meant I advanced to the district level contest.

Now those from Israel know what the contest is, but for the non-Israelis, you need to understand what a big deal it is. The final stage, the international contest itself involves youth from all over the world, and is broadcast on live TV, on Israel Independence Day. Everyone watches it, and the final question is asked by the Prime Minister, who speaks at the event, and who personally hands the first place award to the winner.

I had very little idea what I was doing, once I got to the district level. And Jerusalem was the most competitive district, but I studied as best I could. When the morning of the competition came, I got on the bus, and headed downtown. On the bus, a song written by the great Naomi Shemer, Israel's greatest song writer, and performed by the great, Yehoram Gaon, started to play. The name of the song is best translated, "You will not beat me", but not beat in the sense of hit, rather in the sense of winning a struggle, a game or, yes, a contest. The chorus is, "You won't beat me, I can't be beat that fast!" It is not clear who the singer is talking to. Is it a specific rival, is it the enemies of Israel, is it just life's circumstances? I sense it might be all three. Regardless, I felt like Gaon was talking to me.

I got off the bus, participated in the contest, and took third place. I advanced to the national level, where I took sixth place, so I did not make it to the international contest. That day, I decided that in eleventh grade, I would advance to the international level and win it, I mapped out a strategy, and started a learning regimen the next day.

To make a long story short, I failed... I only got second place in the world! I remained involved with the contest. Two years later a young lady I knew took second place, which is good, because she might not have dated me if she had won... Two years later, we were married. Twenty-three years later still, we are still going strong. So, I got the grand prize, after all.
I was reminded of this personal narrative, because if you know anything about Lillian and Yaniv, you know that they are resilient. You know that they have had their struggles along the way. They don't shy away from them. As Yaniv states simply, "We are two adults, both... with kids, going through life's struggles." And Lillian says, in words I feel Yaniv might say too, "I do not take commitments lightly... When I want to do something... I do it without hesitation."

Both Lillian and Yaniv understand that in order to be successful, to come out of your struggle the better for it, you have to be willing to learn. And so, learning has been a large part of their lives. As Yaniv says, "I always liked learning and kept an open mind." And Lillian's learning and her exploration, specifically, of her spirituality was so rigorous, it is almost unmatched. As she says, "I've been actively exploring religion for as long as I can remember. I asked for a bible when I was six... In kindergarten I explored local Protestant churches... I spent a fair amount of time in Catholic Church... I read copious amounts of literature on as many world religions as I could... You name it; I've probably considered it to varying degrees."

Most importantly, they have tried to learn from their struggles, and they have used this learning to better themselves. They have not only not let themselves be beat by their circumstances; they have forged their struggles into tools for self-improvement. In this they have developed an understanding vital to life: It is all about the journey, not the destination.

And together, they have embarked on a journey, guided by their mutual love, and informed by our ancient faith, in which Lillian found that spiritual home she had been searching for all these years. Yaniv puts it beautifully, when he says, "My love for Lillian is on a steady growth curve and I am honored that she has chosen me to be her partner in this life journey."

And this life journey led them to this day, to share that journey they are on together, with you. As they state, "Sharing a religion... its practices, and... symbolism... meant that we also wanted to share the symbolism of marriage... before our families and God by a purposeful act."

It also led them specifically to this place. They are mindful not only of their personal journey, but that of our people too. We have flourished in, and had to leave many lands behind, with the most memorable departure the one from this land. This eventually led to our people finding their way to promised lands across the ocean, and later back to THE Promised Land across the sea. And eventually, when this land embraced democracy, they also welcomed our people back. And our people survived long enough to be welcomed back, because we constantly kept in mind the spirit of Naomi Shemer's words. To our circumstances and our enemies, we said, "We will overcome and we will win."

And we managed to do that, because we never stopped dreaming of a better day, a brighter future. Israel is the only country that reveres a secular saint, who we call the Seer of the State, another giant named Theodore, whose face may not be etched into a mountain, but whose presence all Israelis feel, Theodore Herzl. In fact, on that bus ride I described, we drove by the mountain named for him, and on which he is entombed, mere steps away from my high school. Herzl, who organized the Zionist movement in the late 1800s, which led to the founding of the state, envisioned it 50 years before anyone could, and was thought a fool for it. He insisted that all you needed was will, and said, in his native German, “Wenn ihr wollt, ist es kein Märchen,” "If you will it, it is no dream."

Yaniv sounds a little like Herzl, speaking of our people, when he speaks of his and Lillian's journey, "We have created so many memories together that these days... (we) have (much to) dream about. I am looking forward to our future together and to the happiness it will bring to us."

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Fresh as a Summer Breeze

Saturday evening, I officiated Ledi and Mark’s wedding at The Adolphus in Dallas, Texas. I love reciting the Priestly Blessing in different languages. This time I got to recite it in Albanian, in Ledi’s family’s honor. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

When I think of Ledi and Mark and their love story, I can’t help but feel excited. There is an energy, an excitement, a vitality that these two exude, when you interact with them as a couple. Just listen to Ledi’s telling of their story from the very beginning, “I looked over, and I thought, ‘Wow, he’s cute!’” and she adds, “From day one, I had a crush on him. I had a feeling in my gut that he was special.” And listen to Mark’s description of his first feelings, “I remember how beautiful she was. I had never seen someone who in my mind had such perfection. She was funny, outgoing, kind, AND cool! To be honest, I thought she was out of my league.”

Now, being a child of the 80s, I when I read what they wrote, I could not help but think of Kool and the Gang’s most well-known song, “Fresh”, where they sing:

Conversation is going 'round
People talking 'bout the girl who's come to town
Lovely lady (which Kool pronounces – I am not making this up – Ledi!), pretty as can be
No one knows her name she's just a mystery
… She's a lady, one I really want to know
Somehow I've got to let my feeling show
She's fresh, exciting
She's so exciting to me…
Tell you something I really can't hide
Heaven must have sent you to be by my side…
Fresh as a summer breeze
She'll take you by surprise
She means so much to me
I'll do whatever to make her mine

Now, do NOT watch the music video of the song ( if you are not sitting down, if you are not sitting down. It is such an odd retelling of the Cinderella story that it will cause your head to spin. And those 80s outfits went out of style for a reason!
Now, Cinderella is a fairy tale, and that term is sometimes a synonym for unreal or make believe. Not so in Ledi and Mark’s connection. These are deep people, with a profound ability for self-reflection, and they take this ability to their mutual life together. Their descriptions of their feelings for each other, and their appreciation of what this relationship has brought them as individuals and as a couple, sound spiritual.

Mark says, “We connected with such strength and on a level neither of us had ever experienced before. It was and continues to this day to be a very special connection. It has not withered. The honeymoon phase has not ended. We continue to grow with each other every single day. We have ups, we have downs, but it doesn't matter. We have each other. I feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude for every moment we share.”

And Ledi says, “I want to marry Mark because he is truly my best friend, he is so thoughtful, he is caring, he is smart, he is handsome, he is my other half. He is every girl’s dream and more. He is truly a blessing and I really am the luckiest woman in the world to have a man care so much for me.” Wow. It sounds like this love story is what Kool and the Gang call in their song, Stone Love, “Solid like a rock…”