Sunday, April 18, 2021

YOLO, Epic

Saturday evening, I officiated Jillian and Lev’s wedding ceremony at Legends Hall at the Marq, in Southlake, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Lev begins the story of how he met Jillian, “It was just another night out with my boys going to see a DJ perform at a concert hall called The Pageant. I had a few friends over at my place before we went to the concert and we were planning on having an epic night as usual.” For those of you over 30, according to the popular slang site, Rachel’s English, epic is “a much-used term, added as an adjective before anything, to mean ‘great’, ‘huge’, ‘awesome’, ‘the best!’” Little did Lev know how epic this night would be…

Now, Jillian’s description starts a little weak but stay with it, “I wasn’t a huge fan of this particular DJ (yikes!) and I rarely went out on Thursday nights, but when you’re single, why not go? Back in 2016, I would have probably said this was a ‘YOLO’ moment for me. (YOLO – You only live once.) I knew the night would be fun regardless.”

Again, for those of you who were not teenagers in 2012, that same year Buzzfeed News defined YOLO, a term popularized by the most famous Canadian Jew, Drake, thus: “YOLO is to recklessly pursue fun while throwing long-term consequences to the wind. YOLO is the worry-free rallying cry of youth shaking off the hairshirt of the pressures of the current times.” As Drake’s ancestors would have said, “Mann tracht, un gott lacht.”

That is one of the only phrases I know in Yiddish, the High-German derived language, spoken by Lev’s and my forebears. It means man plans and God laughs, and if you know even a little about European, especially Eastern European, Jewish history, you know that this simple phrase contains much more depth and nuance than might be present in your average assortment of five words.

I have been thinking about this phrase because this period in which Jillian and Lev have been planning their wedding has given new meaning to this phrase. There are lessons this period is teaching us if we choose to heed them.

One of those central lessons is that we have been fooling ourselves if we think that life abides by some mathematical formula; work hard, play by the rules, and success will automatically follow, was always a bit of a ridiculous proposition. We in the American middle and certainly upper classes, though, if we squinted just a little, could imagine that it was true, and it sometimes made us judge those that did not seem to fit into to that neat formula.

These last 13 months, however, have disabused of this pretentious understanding, so alien to the Abrahamic tradition. It has made many of us kinder, more understanding, more forgiving of others and of ourselves. We have understood that we all need to be extended just a little grace, or maybe more than a little.

A true partnership in life becomes so much more important when you view the world in this light. It makes what Jillian says about Lev’s role in her life so much more poignant: “I’ve finally found someone special that I’m ready to share a life with. I’ve found someone who I love deeply and also have a great relationship with. I’ve learned from past experiences that these two things do not always go hand in hand, so when you find it, you need to cherish it… We have… a true understanding for one another. We laugh together, cry together, agree, disagree. I can truly be myself around him. He loves me and accepts me just as I am, and I love and accept him in return…”

And Lev echoes this sentiment: “I think life is meant to be spent with a person you love and can grow with for the rest of your life. I believe finding a partner that supports you, encourages you, and brings you happiness is very important… Jillian… met all of those characteristics… that made me fall in love with her even more… She is the person who consoles me… the person I look forward to seeing every day, and the person who puts the biggest smile on my face… I want to build a life together filled with lots of memories and adventures that we can call our own.”

Thursday, April 15, 2021

What is Love?

Sunday evening, Reverend Kenneth Meadows and I co-officiated Bethany and Scott’s wedding ceremony at the Hickory Street Annex, in Dallas, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

What is love? It’s a question asked by that early 90s pop song by Haddaway that deserves to be forgotten, and by that 2015 R&B song by V. Bozeman that tugs at your heartstrings. Above all, it’s a question that every couple really needs to answer for themselves. It’s also a question to which there is necessarily more than one answer.

How do I know? No, not from seven years of intense yeshiva study. Rather because I watched Sesame Street. As a child. (I had to clarify that one!) I remember watching Sesame Street, back in the late 70s, when one of the humans explained to one of the puppets that love existed in different forms. There was love of your romantic partner, love of your family members, love of your friends. I don’t remember if it was implicit or explicit, but it was clear that there was also love of other humans and animals too. And right before or after Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers definitely drove this home, along with his clear message of love of self.

Bethany and Scott clearly exhibit this understanding of love in their lives. Bethany tells us that her parents met in ministry, and that consequently, through word and deed “the importance of contributing to the world around you,” was clearly instilled in her. And, though, while the only acceptable professions we as Jewish parents see for our children are doctor, lawyer, and accountant, Scott’s choice to become not only a doctor, but an otolaryngologist (I had to practice that word!) makes it clear that he approaches his life with that same sense of mission Bethany had instilled in her.

Now, it goes without saying that these two are madly in love with each other. However, Bethany and Scott also understand one more very important aspect of love I learned from those iconic children’s shows. I love how Bethany put it. “It’s not loving the person when it’s easy,” she says, “Anyone can do that. It’s loving the person even when it’s hard. That is real commitment.”

Learn from One Another

Saturday evening, I officiated Andrea and Andy’s wedding ceremony at the Westin Stonebriar in Frisco, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

We are all creatures of our time. The very way Andy describes having met Andrea would be puzzling to someone living in this very place just 100 years ago: “Andrea and I met on a dating application shortly after I moved to Texas… On our first date at a Sushi restaurant, I could tell that she was special.” (“Application? Sushi?”)

Now picture the look on the face of the Frisco gentleman in 1921, hearing from Andrea what they or rather she did in their first two dates: “I wooed him with sake bombs…  I kicked his butt at the gym.” (“We gave women the vote last year, and it all went downhill from there, huh?!”) And yet, as Andy says, “Ever since… we were inseparable, learning from one another, working out together, and laughing with one another. (Granted, sometimes, it was at my own expense).”

Now, some old habits die hard. Even in 2021, many still think that it is extremely important to marry someone of as similar a background as possible. Andrea and Andy’s story would militate against accepting this old idea, at face value, too. Andrea says, “Being older, and after having both dated a lot, we both knew that we wanted a family and were ready to settle down. We started asking the tough questions right away to see if we were ultimately a match for one another. It was a complete shock, we were on the same page on all of the big issues (money, finance, family) and yet still valued each other’s different backgrounds.”

However, Andrea and Andy take this one step further. Andrea says: “Andy and I don’t just agree on those big issues. Andy brings out the calmer, more relaxed side of me. (I can be a lot to handle at times…) He makes me laugh, comforts me when I need it most, and always tries to do better every single day.”

So not only are their different backgrounds not a negative; they are a positive, because in Andy’s words, they have indeed focused on “learning from one another,” and helping with “each other’s personal growth.” This openness, nay desire, to learn from one another’s differences has helped them in his words, “stride together in one direction… overcoming any obstacles that life has thrown our way. We both know how to pick one another up when… needed and when to lean on the other person when we need to…” Sounds like a great prescription for a happy, interesting, and fruitful marriage to me.

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Making Me Want to Be Better

Saturday evening, Reverend Marty Younkin, of LoveNotes, and I co-officiated Sofia and James’ wedding ceremony at the Dallas Arboretum (in the Jonsson Color Garden), in Dallas, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

I got reprimanded in Starbucks because of Sofia and James. I am not making this up. Allow me to explain.

I ask each person I marry to write an essay about themselves and send it to me before my second meeting with them. One of things I ask them to address in the essay is why they want to marry their partner. It’s a pretty fundamental question, and if you can’t answer that, well, as Tom Hanks says in Apollo 13, “Houston, we have a problem.”

I ask couples not to read each other’s essays, because it just spices the discussion up. Seriously, though, it’s just cool to see how couples react to what the other has written about them. Take what Sofia wrote about James, for instance:

“I fell for him very fast because he was always incredibly sweet, funny, and was very close with his family…. We both just knew we were really good together, and we both saw our relationship going very far. James and I are complete opposites in many ways, but somehow it makes us balance each other out perfectly. He is quiet, so doesn’t care when I can’t stop talking, and I am anxious, so his laid-back personality mellows me out.”

Not only does that just sound cool, but it is also exactly what you want out of your relationship, that the sum total of you together is greater than each of your parts separately.

OK, I still haven’t told you how they got me a Starbucks reprimand. So, here we go. James addresses my question of “why” as follows, in a way that somewhat mirrors Sofia’s answer. I will replace half a word with “expletive deleted” just like they did when they transcribed the Nixon tapes:

“For the past three and a half years she has been my person. (Parenthetically: I thought doctors don’t like Grey’s Anatomy, but apparently, I was wrong…) She is constantly making me want to be better and I love that about her. She does not put up with my bull – expletive deleted – and will call me out whenever I am in the wrong, which is almost always.”

During our FaceTime meeting, when I mentioned that, Sofia was thoroughly embarrassed, because apparently, she thinks you’re not supposed to swear when you write an essay for a rabbi. The concept itself is however extremely important, and fundamental to every successful marriage. That’s why I said I agreed with James. With that, the barista, half my age and not an ordained clergyman to the best of my knowledge, walked over to me, and told me in no uncertain terms that they have a “no swearing policy” at Starbucks.

Sofia and James, please keep doing what you are doing, keep balancing each other out, keep calling each other out, and your bond will remain unbreakable.