Saturday, December 17, 2022

Better Than We Found It

On Saturday afternoon, December 10th, I officiated Lauren and Parker’s wedding ceremony at the Barr Mansion in Austin, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

The funny thing about how Lauren and Parker explain why they want to get married is that they each preface their answer telling you how deficient their answer is going to be.

Lauren says: “I could probably write about this forever. However, engineers aren’t the best writers.” Parker says, “I am a man of many words, but I often find myself speechless when I reflect on Lauren.” Fortunately, and I hate to criticize a bride and groom on their wedding day, they are both wrong. Their answers are very instructive. 

I wanted to zero in on a specific common aspect of their answers, which were each written without consulting the other, incidentally. Parker says about Lauren, “She is deeply motivated to understand and improve the lives of everyone around her.” Lauren says about Parker, “He’s the most thoughtful, sweet, loving person I’ve ever met, and he always leaves a place better than he found it.”

This might sound simple to you, but I would contend that it is the most important message for life. As modern Stoic philosopher, Ryan Holiday writes, “This should be the standard by which we judge all our endeavors, professions, relationships and indeed our lives themselves. Did we add value or extract it? Did we improve things or muddle them? Did we kick the can down the road on problems or did we solve them? Did we leave things in a better place than we found them?”

You might protest this message of Lauren and Parker. It might even make you uncomfortable. It does sound like a lot of pressure. You might try to discount it, thinking what can tiny me do that will really influence the world.

Our forefathers had a ready answer. Rabbi Tarfon in the Ethics of Fathers, the only part of the Mishnah, the 200 C.E. compendium of Jewish Law devoted solely to ethics, says: “It is not your duty to finish the work, but neither are you at liberty to neglect it.”

And more than 1800 years later, in 2020, a fellow Texan, Maren Morris, similarly implored us, “Who's gonna care if I don't? Who's gonna change if I won't? … Will we sit on our hands, do nothing about it, or will we leave this world better than we found it?”

Lauren and Parker, what we hope for you is that you continue to carry this important message into your married life, that you continue to positively influence each other, improve the lives of everyone around you, and leave every place you encounter in this world better than you found it.

Friday, November 25, 2022

God Rolled Out the Red Carpet

On Friday, November 18th, Minister Joseph Devlin and I co-officiated Janelle and Chris’ wedding ceremony at The Club at Garden Ridge in Garden Ridge, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Janelle’s first thoughts about Chris, before she actually met him are, um, interesting: “I initially thought I don’t know, this dude looks like a major hippie, but it says he’s a therapist so he must be a pretty good person. I guess I’ll give him a shot, haha.” Low bar, but OK!

Chris describes what she didn’t know at that point but would bring them together: “Janelle and I have both taken our knocks from life to this point. We can both attest to profound experiences of hurt and isolation and a disappointing experience of trying to find love and connection… I feel that God wrote a hell of a harrowing story for us both and that we were meant to find each other now when we did.” Wow, pretty deep major hippie!

I always ask couples to tell me about themselves as individuals and as a couple and to tell me about their spirituality. With Janelle and Chris, the subjects are intertwined. When I asked Janelle why she wanted to marry Chris and why now, she answered in spiritual terms:

“Chris is the sweetest, most caring, thoughtful, funny, smart goofball I’ve ever met. He is my twin soul and completes me in every way. He’s the Yin to my Yang. His philosophical approach to everything balances my hard science approach… He brought me back to God and made me believe again. Because only God could have created a soul so perfect for me and influenced the random sequence of events that allowed us to meet at the time, I was finally ready for him. It took 32 years and a lot of tears and tough times, but I would go through it all again to find Chris.”

Chris speaks in similar terms: “I feel it’s the right connection every time we laugh together or build a new goofy inside joke (our lives are already filled with these), or in moments where it feels like we’re really able to understand each other, or in moments where we’re able to be doing mundane stuff but feel enhanced by the mere presence of the other person.

We both feel like this marriage is an invitation to a bigger and better layer of life, where we have a renewed focus on giving and sharing love… It feels like God has rolled out the red carpet for both of us to be living the lives we’re meant for, and that that path for me is named Janelle.” 

Wow, I really can’t add to that.

Revealed In a Dream

On Sunday, November 13th, I officiated Rebekah and Kaya’s wedding ceremony at the Texas Renaissance Festival in Todd Mission, Texas. Every wedding I officiate is special. This one was rather unique. The bride and groom dressed as king and queen, most guests were in costume, and I was dressed as a wizard.

For the opening remarks, I shared these words:

Dearly beloved, we have gathered here today

To get through this thing called life

Electric word life it means forever and that's a mighty long time

But I'm here to tell you there's something else…

Now, at this point, you might be wondering a number of things, in no particular order: (a) Why did they circle each other before the wizard started talking? (b) Is it legal in Texas to have a wizard marry you? (c) Isn’t it illegal, outside of his native state of Minnesota, to begin a wedding ceremony with Prince lyrics?

Allow me to ignore b and c and explain a. As Oren, known by most as Kaya, and Rebekah, known by most as Rebekah, came forth, they followed an ancient Jewish tradition and circled each other seven times. This rather theatrical custom was originally designed to ward off evil spirits. Good thing, too, because some of you definitely scare me. It also symbolizes the mutual commitment of Rebekah and Kaya to make each one the center of the other’s world. Indeed, the scholars of Jewish mysticism write that this circling helps the lovers enter the many spheres of each other’s souls.

Friends, the bond and covenant of marriage is an ancient one. It is so old that often the relationship between God and Israel is analogized to the union of lovers. 

Now, this covenant is not to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly but reverently. That reverence is only enhanced by having your ceremony officiated by a powerful wizard.

Now, I hate interruptions once I really get wound up, so just to ensure there are no shenanigans if any of you can show just cause why they may not be lawfully married, speak now, or else forever hold your peace. (Pause)

Speaking of shenanigans, Rebekah and Kaya, I require and charge you both, if you know any reason why you may not be united in marriage lawfully, you do now confess it. (Pause)

OK, great, I didn’t travel all this way from Dallas in my wizard costume only to return empty-handed. Let’s keep going. Considering that I am not just a powerful wizard but a very wise rabbi, too, I should probably chant something in Hebrew before we move on.

Here are the personal remarks I shared with them and their guests. I modified my standard intro a little:

Friends, our shared traditions embrace lifelong learning and learning from everyone. Now, I know what you are wondering: Is there anything a powerful wizard like me does not already know? No, there isn’t. I’m not talking about me. I’m talking about you. You still have much to learn. So, whenever I officiate a wedding, I ask myself, this couple being unique individuals, what can normal mortals like you learn from them, so listen up. I don’t want to have to repeat myself.

Growing up in an academic household, I attended academic conferences and even read academic papers from a very young age, so I assumed that, naturally, everyone reads footnotes. I was well into my mid-forties when I discovered this was not the case. 

Now, there is little doubt as to the very best footnote ever written. No one comes close to Nicholas Berdyaev in his 1949 essay, The Divine and the Human. Often footnotes will include sources for the ideas the scholar is sharing with their readers. However, rather than citing a specific work, this footnote reads, and yes, it does sound better in the original German: “This was once revealed to me in a dream.” 

Now, you might be wondering why, standing here in a wizard costume, I chose to speak about the absolutely riveting subject of footnotes. It’s a fair question. And, no, the idea to do this was not revealed to me in a dream. It’s totally Rebekah’s fault.

Rebekah says, “I met Kaya in probably the most spiritual way possible. I had a dream about them. Yes, a dream. About two months before I moved to L.A., I had a dream about this bearded tattooed guy, and we instantly connected, and it gave me a lot of insight into where he was in life… 

Right after moving to L.A. I got this message from a circus company, asking if I would be interested in doing a performance… I agreed to meet with them, and I was expecting a girl or a couple, but then in walks the literal man of my dreams…” 

Kaya picks up the story from there, “I recall her face turning white. She seemed stunned. I assumed it [was] because I mentioned via texts jokingly that I was wearing a purple dress so she could [easily] spot me. We had not yet spoken by phone, and apparently, she assumed Kaya was a girl. My joke and her assumption together were a perfect setup for when a bearded and tattooed man introduced himself as Kaya.” Only later did Rebekah reveal to Kaya that he didn’t know the half of it. As you already know by now, like Nicholas Berdyaev, this was, in fact, revealed to her in a dream…

Kaya elaborates on even more magic and wonder that was involved in that first encounter: “One way in which… magic… has manifested in my life is the gift of having met my angel and queen, Rebekah… I [had] reached out to her asking if she would like to play the role of Cleopatra in an upcoming immersive theater project I was directing. What she didn’t reveal to me at the time was that she had an affinity for Cleopatra growing up, and her grandmother even handmade her a beautiful Cleopatra costume as a child…”

I believe that these phenomena are what we call foreshadowing. Here is another bit of foreshadowing for you. Close your eyes (yes, now) and think of what Cleopatra looked like. Now, Kaya simply pictured Rebekah, but you probably pictured Elizabeth Taylor. 

Here is a fascinating fact about the famous actress. She, like Rebekah, fell in love with Judaism. In fact, the classic 1964 movie was banned in Egypt because Gamel Abdel Nasser’s government was outraged that Cleopatra would be played by a Jew and a fierce advocate of Israel like Taylor, no less. 

The Ancient Rabbis believed that foreshadowing played a huge role in love and marriage. They also had a real knack for theatrics. The Talmud is constantly mentioning incidents in which, it claims, a heavenly voice makes a dramatic proclamation. And they maintained that forty days before the conception of every fetus, a heavenly voice proclaims who that individual will eventually marry. 

(As an aside, this is somewhat surprising because contrary to the view held by some that a fetus should be considered viable from the moment of conception, we, Jews, believe that a fetus becomes viable only after it graduates from medical school.)

Seriously, though, at the same time that we value foreshadowing, we are not naïve. We recognize the truth of these words written by a great playwright, in his native German, "Wenn ihr wollt, ist es kein Märchen" which we usually translate, “If you will it, it is no dream.” 

These words, written by one Theodor Herzl, who we refer to as the Seer of the State of Israel, convey a great truth not only about the life of nations but about the life of individuals in love. It is vital but not sufficient to have a dream. You must will it into existence, in word and deed, and never stop willing it. Just like Rebekah and Kaya.    

Finally, I altered my pronouncement a little for this wedding:

Rebekah and Kaya, all of us here rejoice in your happiness, and we pray that this marks only one of many more blessings you will share in the days and years ahead. Now that you have spoken the words and performed the rites that unite your lives, I do hereby, with all my wizardly powers granted to me by the Great State of Texas, declare you husband and wife. Kaya, you may kiss your queen!

The Golden Rule

On Friday, November 11th, I officiated Tori and Gabe’s wedding ceremony at The Vintage Rail in Fort Worth, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

I have officiated over 530 weddings, but Tori and Gabe’s wedding is a first in a very special way. One of Tori’s relatives was gifted a prayer book on her wedding day by her groom. That custom is quite common. It is the inscription, however, on the prayer book that is special. 

It was written in 1938 in then Palestine, which was under the rule of the King of England, by a great rabbi named Rabbi Abraham Samuel Finkel. Now, that last name, Finkel, is a dead giveaway in the world of Jewish scholarship, for this man’s father was a founder of a prominent school of the Mussar movement, whose goal was to “foster peace of mind, humility, tolerance, thoughtful consideration of others, self-examination, and purity of mind.”

Tori and Gabe’s relationship origin story exhibits Gabe’s thoughtful consideration of others, as there can be no greater consideration than saving a damsel in distress. Gabe says, “How we met was definitely out of a romantic comedy. The owner of the company I was with had a housewarming party, and Victoria's best friend got hired to work the bar.” 

Tori explains that since the company was mostly made up of men, everyone was asked to bring a girl or a houseplant. Fortunately, Tori’s friend brought her and not a houseplant, or we might not be here today. 

Gabe continues, “I was walking around the party and saw Victoria talking with this goober, and I felt the need to interject. I put my arm around her.” The guy asked then asked Tori, “Is this your boyfriend?” Tori started to correct him and say, “Friend.” Gabe interrupted and said, “Fiancée.” Though Tori insists she was in no need of saving, the rest is clearly history.

Now, though the Mussar movement in Judaism was new, it was not introducing anything that, at its core, was not already part of all great traditions. The movement’s teachings simply elaborate on the idea taught by Hillel, Jesus, the Buddha, Confucius, Muhammad, and more, which scholars refer to as the ethic of reciprocity, and laymen refer to as the Golden Rule. As Tori wisely observes regarding all religions, “It’s hard to… take them at face value, but underneath them all, the golden rules and foundations are… so closely related.”

Here is the thing about the Golden Rule. It is really easy to abide by it in isolation, especially in its negative form, as expressed by Hillel. If you don’t interact with anyone, well, you can’t do anything to them that you would not want to be done to you. 

Living in isolation, though, is not possible, arguably, it leaves a person’s moral development stunted, and it means that you will leave this world not much better than you found it. Conversely, through a great romantic relationship, the Ancient Rabbis tell us, not only does one get to regularly practice the Golden Rule, but one also gets to fulfill the commandment to love one’s fellow as oneself in its highest form. 

Tori expresses these ideas beautifully: “I couldn’t imagine my life without this man. It would be dull and less stimulating. I would survive, of course, but it would hold so much less meaning. After six years together, life with him is home, and I’m ready to share a life together in meaning and name, to take on the world as a unit, and to be a family.”

Gabe adds, “We have been together six years now. She has made me a better man and only wants to see me succeed. It would be hard to find another woman as kind, smart and caring as her.”

And Tori speaks for both of them when she says, “I want our children to see us as a united guiding force, not just two individuals passing through time… It takes strength and love to make a relationship withstand the test of time and feel like not only do we bring out the best in each other; being together helps us bring out the best in ourselves.”

Sunday, November 6, 2022

Empower Other People

On Saturday evening, November 5, 2022, I officiated Beth and Bryon’s wedding ceremony at their home in Dallas, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

May you live in interesting times, is said to be an ancient Chinese curse, though it assuredly was invented by an Englishman, Sir Austen Chamberlain. Ironically, his better known brother who ascended to the prime ministry, assured that times got way too interesting. 

Now, most of us do not control an island nation ruling over an empire, so our decisions will not factor into the times being more or less interesting. We, are, though, each and every one of us, tasked with responding to what the times lay in our path.  

As modern Stoic philosopher, Ryan Holiday, reminds us, expounding on the words of another man who ruled over an empire, Marcus Aurelius, “We don’t control when things get hard, but we always control how we respond.”

One thing we do have in common with the ancient philosopher-king, is that we have lived through a pandemic, and not one of us has been left unaffected, nor have our relationships. I say this with no judgement; just as many individuals suffered and some individuals succumbed to the pandemic, so it has been with relationships. 

What is beautiful to see are the individuals and the relationships that have not only survived but thrived, and often these relationships strengthened the individuals. 

Bryon explicitly says, “If not for our partnership, I don’t know that I would have made it through that time. My family, the core of everything in my life, dissolved. I couldn’t see my parents, my brother, the people that I loved and respected the most… But Beth and I were there together every single day. We loved each other deeply, always knowing and understanding those dark times and what they meant. She was my rock.”

Now, as anyone who has seen The Gladiator can tell you, Marcus Aurelius had a few more challenges beyond the Antonine Plague, and all of us have challenges that extend beyond COVID-19. If we are lucky enough, we as individuals and our relationships will not only not be broken by these experiences but be strengthened through them. 

Beth says, “Bryon and I are the strongest team. When we first started dating, I [experienced some medical challenges]. He stood by my side, literally… The pandemic made us sturdy, almost impenetrable. A year ago, in a period of three months, we suffered the loss of Bryon’s father, Mike, our beloved pets, Bailey and Isabella, followed by my unbelievably amazing Nana. Through everything, I have become kinder, better, sturdier. Never weaker. I have continued to laugh, and smile. I know this strength is in me, but also very much because I have my life-long partner, Bryon, beside me.”

What is at the core of reacting this way to hardship? I believe it is rather simple. Empathy for ourselves and others, and the compassion that flows from that. 

In preparation for this ceremony, I had the opportunity to speak to one person who is very close to Beth and Bryon, Sam Mahool. She shared with me that among the things that stand out to her about this couple is that fierce compassion: “They go out of their way to make people feel special, as a team. They really care about… and empower other people.”

Beth and Bryon, may you continue to embody this mantra from fellow Texan, Dr, Kristin Neff, in your relationship with each other and with others: 

May all beings be safe and free from harm. 

May all beings be peaceful and happy. 

May all beings be healthy and strong. 

May all beings live with ease.

Saturday, November 5, 2022

Everything Fell into Place

Sunday afternoon, October 30th, Reverend Steven Fricke and I co-officiated Hilary and Echo’s wedding at the River Road Chateau, in Anna, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

I ask every couple to tell me why they want to get married, and I get many good answers. The answers these two gave me may be some of the deepest I have ever gotten, because they are very deep themselves. 

Hilary says, “I know that no matter what could happen in our lives… I could never love anyone as much as I love Echo… I know I could never find anyone else who knows me as well as Echo does, understands me as completely as Echo does. I could never feel as comfortable and safe and open and honest and able to be my true self with anyone else. I know I will never find anyone who loves me as much and completely as Echo does… Not being together is a non-option.”

Echo says, “This October will mark six years together, and during that time we’ve been through all kinds of difficult and amazing times together. We’ve regarded each other as wife through most of that and want to “seal the deal” as it were. This has been a major goalpost for our lives, and we want to mark our progress with an official joining.” She mentions one more point we can all identify with about our crazy times, “After the past two years of hardship and strife, we want to open a new chapter and refresh our relationship.” 

What Hilary and Echo both says echoes one of the deepest passages in that deepest of books, Man’s Search for Meaning, by Dr. Viktor Frankl, “The salvation of the human is through love and in love… a human who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of their beloved…through loving contemplation of the image they carry… achieve fulfillment.” 

Indeed, Hilary says, “I believe that we are soulmates, not because Fate has made it so, but because we choose to be… I feel as though I have been searching for someone, something, for ages and ages. Then when I met Echo, everything fell into place, everything feels right. I will never let her go again.”

A Beautiful Interfaith Ceremony

Saturday afternoon, October 29th, Reverend Robyn Michalove and I co-officiated Natalie and Ike’s wedding at the Horseshoe Bay Resort, in Horseshoe Bay, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Ike describes the beginning of this love story thus: “I first met Natalie… interning… We… didn’t connect again until… we both started [working]… We… became fast friends... bonded over music, food, and sports, and after about 8 months of friendship… recognized that there was something more to our feelings for one another... Natalie was the coolest person I knew… I was slow to do anything about my feelings…”

Natalie elaborates a little bit more. Brace yourself, Ike: “Ike and I first interned together… I always thought he was very funny… fun, and cute. When we started work… I still thought that… We ended up becoming very good friends… A minor crush… turned into a major crush… But I was convinced that he wasn’t interested in me...

There were also several opportunities for him to make a move and he never did… On St. Patrick’s Day 2016, I… found an old fortune cookie. It said, ‘Your heart will get what it desires.’ I… decided… to make it clear how I felt.” The rest is history.

The great muckraker and social reformer, Upton Sinclair, once said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!” So, you will understand how difficult it is for me to acknowledge the truth of this next quote from Natalie: “I don’t think that marriage is a necessary part of a successful life or relationship.” So, I imagine I can hope for a somewhat limited number of referrals from this bride. Noted… 

Seriously, though, she continues: “I’ve sometimes brushed off people[‘s]… congratulations… I’m very excited and happy that we’ve chosen to get married, but it’s a choice we’re making, not a prize we’re winning or something major that we’ve accomplished.” 

She clarifies, though, “I do think there is something incredibly moving and valuable about deciding (if you want) to commit your life to a partnership with another person and to stating that commitment to your community.” And Ike agrees: “I want to confirm our commitment to one another and make our partnership an even more solidified and tangible thing.”

Natalie and Ike are 100% correct. Legal benefits aside, this is perhaps the ONLY reason one should marry in the modern world. It is not that marriage is just a piece of paper, but when a couple marries, they should basically have a relationship that is already so strong, that they are merely adding that piece of paper to what is already a rock solid partnership.

A beautiful interfaith ceremony like this one offers a couple one more unique opportunity besides just publicly proclaiming their love and commitment to each other. As Natalie says, “I want our community to see how we are choosing to weave together our faiths and values and traditions, that we’re not putting one person’s… over the other’s, that we’re not watering down… but… tak[ing] the elements of both that we truly value… to serve as a foundation for us…

And Ike adds, “I love Natalie with my entire heart, and I’m excited to declare that to her in the tradition of both of our faiths and families, legally, and in a way that’s unique to us through our wedding ceremony. And I’m equally excited for her to do the same for me.”

Take Your Relationships Seriously, But Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously

Friday evening, October 28th, I officiated Jamie and Zach’s wedding at Chandler's Garden, in Celina, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

When I was thinking about these remarks, I remembered a brilliant story about two historical giants, Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan. Both of these figures were central to the story of the modern State of Israel, both were members of the same labor movement, both were brash and swashbuckling revolutionaries, one ending up as prime minister, one as army chief of staff, defense minister, and foreign minister.

The thing is that though Dayan had been a war hero from World War I onwards, Golda seems to have always had his number. In the early days of the Yom Kippur War, Dayan famously lost his nerve, predicting that Israel would not survive the conflict, while Golda, amidst arming planes with nuclear weapons and readying them for attack, remained as calm and collected as ever.

At one point during their work together, Golda, who had an acid tongue, was exasperated with Dayan’s never-ending antics. She took a drag on her cigarette, turned to him, and in her heavily American accented Hebrew wryly remarked, “Don’t act so humble, you’re not that great.”

Golda, who likely had one true love and belonged to one political party her whole life, was trying to teach Dayan, the famously philandering thrice divorced cad, whose political allegiances changed with the proverbial wind, a lesson he would never learn, but one that we should heed, in all areas of life, but most importantly in love and marriage: Take your relationships seriously, but don’t take yourself too seriously. 

This is a quality that I see in both Jamie and Zach. They get this, which bodes well for their marriage. You see this in how Zach answers the double question I ask every person I marry, why do you want to get married and why now? 

“We have been dating for 5+ years, have lived together for multiple years, and now own a house together. We have seen each other in many positive and negative lights, from taking cross country road trips together, driving up tall mountains, learning to live with each other’s habits around the house, and taking care a dog together. We, basically, see ourselves as already married, and see the ceremony as basically a formality. As far as why now, the time just seems right.”

You see this in how Jamie answers and elaborates upon another question I ask every person I marry, how did you meet? “I was slower to warm up and a little more shy. The first time we met in person was at The Gingerman which is a local bar, and I had a LOT of questions for Zach when we first met in person. Zach answered every question correctly and cared a lot about how I feel and my perspectives. Zach and I have been together for 5 years and I love the life we have created. We also have a fur-child named Toby and I have loved seeing the love Zach has for Toby and the way he takes care of him. Toby usually sleeps in his own bed, but when I am out of town Toby sleeps in the bed!! Zach is also adamant that Toby should have 3 meals a day instead of 2 because he lives for food.”

More importantly, you see this not only in their words but in their actions, indeed in how Jamie and Zach are celebrating this very wedding, under a tree in Celina, Texas, with the smell of pizza wafting through the air. They will never forget today, but they know what really counts, all the days after today, their marriage, their love story, their relationship.

Ready and Excited

On Saturday evening, October 22, 2022, Father Michael Mills and I co-officiated Allison and Jordan’s wedding ceremony at the Dallas Arboretum in Dallas, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

I’ve always been intrigued by couples’ origin stories. The way Jordan tells the story of how he met Allison is, well, I’ll just quote him: “Allie’s probably going to tell you a story of how we met at her birthday, and then eventually over time we finally started dating and the rest was magic from there. She will be lying! She did not remember me after the first two times we met. Crazy right?

I met Allie twice before she remembered who I was, although I couldn’t forget her. One of my roommates… was invited to [attend] her birthday and [asked] to bring friends. In her defense, it was her birthday, drinks were flowing, and I was just a stranger who showed up through a friend…

The second time we met was at a bar. We were chatting briefly, and then my other friend started venting to her about this girl he was in love with, etc., etc., and Allie being kind and empathetic listened to it for what must have been over an hour. They did end up getting married, so I guess Allie gave some good advice, but like c’mon, I’m trying to talk to this pretty girl. 

Finally, next time we were at a sports bar for the big Texas vs OU football game.  Here, we hit it off, and I think there’s even a photo from our ‘first’ time meeting.  Finally, I made an impression!”  

Allison is quick to defend herself: “Jordan and I met in April 2016 at my birthday party… My best guy friend from UT, Scott, brought his three roommates along to the party. Jordan was one of the roommates.

Maybe it was the nice spring air, the fresh crawfish, or the round of tequila shots we took but after the party was over, Jordan told Scott that he thought I was “cute” and might ask me out. Turns out there was zero urgency behind that statement because it took several more times meeting each other before we finally went on our first date in December of 2016.”

Let’s get down to brass tacks, though. I love Allison and Jordan’s answers to the most important question every person standing before a group like this needs to answer, why do you want to marry this person? These answers are simple and deeply profound at the same time. They clearly reflect not only the deep love they have for each other, but their extremely realistic understanding of what marriage is all about.

Allison says: “Having Jordan in my life makes me lighter. As someone who is easily weighed down by anxiety and everyday worries, Jordan is my constant source of light and happiness. He is funny, goofy, sarcastic and we laugh together every day. He always has my back and supports me but is also the first person to call me out when I’m wrong (and I need that, trust me). He has helped me become a brighter, more confident version of myself and I will always be grateful that we found each other.”

Jordan says: “Minor reason, because she said we can’t get a dog until we’re married.” OK, funny guy. Don’t worry; he quickly redeems himself: “Mainly because I love Allison and want to spend the rest of my life with her. It had been four-ish years of dating, living together, not killing each other during a quarantine/pandemic, and I still loved her just as much as I did when I first met her. I knew the joy it would bring her, and I was ready to take the next step. I don’t think I woke up one day with an epiphany of “I want to marry this girl”, but to me it’s something you decide on over time by going through the ups and downs of a relationship. I felt ready and excited for the next step, and the day I proposed to her – the joy, happiness, surprise, and tears – it was the best day of my life.”

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

On Thursday afternoon, October 13, 2022, I officiated Cindy and Matt’s wedding at the Dana Villas on the Island of Santorini in Greece. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

The Ethics of the Fathers is a tractate (or volume) of the Mishnah, the 200 C.E. compendium of the Jewish Oral Law, which unlike the other tractates, as its name indicates, discusses ethics, not laws. In the very first chapter, we are told that Rabbi Simon said the following:

“All my days I grew up among the sages, and I have found nothing better for a person than silence. Study is not the most important thing, but actions; whoever indulges in too many words brings about sin.”

At first blush, it seems odd. I contend that no one becomes a clergyman if they don’t like the sound of their own voice. On top of that, as I just mentioned in my introduction, lifelong learning, study, is paramount in all religions.

In fact, ordination in Judaism does not indicate special sacramental powers like in Catholicism and does not necessitate any type of calling like in Protestant Christianity. It is simply a mark of having achieved a level of wisdom that one can apply in ruling on questions of Jewish Law.

Once we take a more careful look at what Simon said, it becomes clearer. He does not say study is not important. He says that words and study are not as important as actions. Essentially, as we first find in a letter, written in 1736 by a man from Boston, “Actions speak louder than words.”

If you know Cindy and Matt, actually even if you don’t them and just look at their wedding website or their social media, you see what they are saying through their actions. In fact, the very way they decided to celebrate this wedding is an action that speaks.

And what do those actions tell us? This is going to sound totally alien to the so-called American Dream, though very much at in sync with where we are in Southern Europe: Experiences beat stuff every time. Specifically, new experiences brought about through travel beat mere stuff every time.

There are many reasons that experiences beat stuff, and one main reason that travel is one of the most superior experiences. It goes back to that idea of lifelong learning, and it is a lesson Mark Twain teaches us in his very first book.

The book, “The Innocents Abroad,” is a humorous and witty travelogue which, though little remembered today, remained his best-selling book throughout his lifetime. The ultimate destination was the Holy Land, but the group of Americans he was with visited many countries, Greece included, though regretfully not this beautiful island. (Poor Samuel Clemens.)

He writes as follows, and keep in mind the voyage was made on what was a decommissioned Union Civil War ship, but two years after the surrender at Appomattox Court House: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.” Wow. Do these words, published 153 years ago, not seem as prescient today as they did then? 

Cindy and Matt, thank you for celebrating the beginning of this new chapter of your life in this special place. Thank you for reminding us through actions, not words, what is most important. May we all heed your lesson. 

Sunday, October 9, 2022

Luckier Than Most

On Sunday afternoon, October 2, 2022, I officiated Taylor and Ben’s wedding at the Hidden Creek in Heath, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Ladies, find yourself someone that says this about meeting you. “Taylor and I met on October 29, 2017, in a fluke accident. Neither one of us was supposed to be there and for me it was like hitting the lottery as soon as I met her.”

Now, Taylor, I’m sure you will be stunned, describes this encounter in a slightly more, um, earthy way: “Benji and I met at a Halloween party on the Saturday night before Halloween. I went to go play beer pong and ended up playing against him. FYI, I won in beer pong. He would not leave me alone the whole night and asked for my number.”

Ladies, again, find yourself someone whose response to that is: “She was the most gorgeous girl there, the smartest girl there and I wasn’t going to let her get away from me. She often recounts this night that I wouldn’t let her leave my sight. This is true, I got her number and the next day facetimed her. We set up a date and to this day we still bring up our first date. It was great.” 

The next thing Taylor says about Ben, is the best you can hear about your loved one’s partner, “I want to come home every day, see my husband’s face and just know that everything is going to be okay. Benji’s the only man who has made me feel this way. He treats me right and always loves me. He makes me feel just so special.”

Ben shares that sentiment. “She is my through and through, she is my backbone, my motivation to be better and be stronger… The unconditional love that we share is something that will never be replicable.”

Taylor, in referring to Ben being the only man who makes her feel the way she does and Ben, in referring to meeting Taylor as winning the lottery, remind us of an important Jewish custom. 

We bless marrying couples that their love should be analogous to the mythic first couple, Adam and Eve. For Adam, the only woman in the world was Eve. For Eve, the only man in the world was Adam, and we hope every couple should experience a love so unique.

Taylor and Ben, you are luckier than most. You are already there. What we wish for you is that this continue. May your love for Ben, Taylor, be so strong, that it should be like he is the only man in the world. And may your love for Taylor, Ben, be so strong that it should be like she is the only woman in the world.

Monday, September 26, 2022

Two Lone Star States

On Saturday evening, September 17, 2022, Melissa Aleman and I co-officiated Lucia and Jon’s tri-lingual wedding ceremony at 2616 Commerce in Dallas, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests in English and Spanish:

This wedding occurs in the Lone Star State, where Lucia was raised, and where eventually Lucia and Jon would settle down. You may not have ever thought of this, but there is another Lone Star State; the one that Jon’s family comes from. That’s right, Israel. (Think of the flag. Get it?) Incidentally, I didn’t make that up. Credit goes to one of the most colorful political figures in recent Texas political history, and we have quite a few of those, Carole Keeton Strayhorn, known by the moniker, “One Tough Grandma.”

Esta boda esta occuriendo aqui en el Texas conocido como el Lone Star State, donde se crió Lucía y donde eventualmente se están estableciendo Lucía y Jon. A la mejor nunca han pensado en esto, pero hay otro Lone Star State; de donde proviene la familia de Jon. Así es, Israel. (Piensa en la bandera. ¿Lo entienden?) Por cierto, no me lo inventé. El mérito es de una de las figuras políticas más pintorescas de la historia política reciente de Texas, y tenemos bastantes de ellas, Carole Keeton Strayhorn, conocida con el apodo de "One Tough Grandma".

Having spent about equal portions of my life in both states, I have noticed some things in common, beyond the flags sporting a single star. Both states come off as brash and swashbuckling, which seems to be rooted in having a certain chip on their shoulder.

On the other hand, the way people communicate can be very different. We, Israelis, say what we mean and mean what we say. If we disagree, you will know. If we don’t like you, we will tell you. This is sometimes misconstrued as being aggressive. We are not; we are just being, and we use an Arabic word for this, dugri, which means straight and honest to a fault.

Habiendo pasado partes iguales de mi vida en ambos estados, he notado algunas cosas en común, más allá de las banderas que lucen una sola estrella. Ambos estados parecen impetuosos y bravucones, lo que parece tener sus raíces en tener un cierto chip en el hombro.

Por otro lado, la forma en que las personas se comunican puede ser muy diferente. Nosotros, los israelíes, decimos lo que pensamos y pensamos lo que decimos. Si no estamos de acuerdo, lo van a saber. Si no nos gustas, te lo diremos. Esto a veces se malinterpreta como agresivo. No somos; simplemente así somos, y usamos una palabra árabe para describer esto, dugri, que significa recto y honesto hasta el extremo.

We, Texans, on the other hand, treasure the other person’s feelings above what we might think is the absolute truth. When we disagree, we might say, “Well, there you go,” or, “It is what it is.” If we don’t care for you, we will just say, “Well, bless your heart.” I can’t tell you exactly what that translates to, because that would be inappropriate at a wedding. Let’s just say, we are suggesting that you go do something with yourself.

Nosotros, los tejanos, por otro lado, atesoramos los sentimientos de la otra persona más de lo que sabemos es la verdad absoluta. Cuando no estamos de acuerdo, podemos decir: "Bueno, ahí lo tienes" o "Es lo que es". Si no nos preocupamos por ti, simplemente diremos: "Bueno, bendito sea tu corazón". No puedo decirles exactamente en qué se traduce eso, porque sería inapropiado en una boda. Digamos que estamos sugiriendo que vayas a hacer algo contigo mismo.

Now, one might say that the ideal would be to take the best of both worlds. After all, both seem to come from a place of love. However, I think, that, we, Texans, may have a tiny bit more to learn, from us, Israelis. Of course, you always want to treasure the others’ feelings, but honesty must be the foundation of every relationship. It seems like in their relationship Lucia and Jon have done just that.

Ahora, se podría decir que lo ideal sería tomar lo mejor de ambos mundos. Después de todo, ambos parecen provenir de un lugar de amor. Sin embargo, creo que nosotros, los tejanos, podemos aprender un poquito más de nosotros, los israelíes. Por supuesto, siempre querrás atesorar los sentimientos de los demás, pero la honestidad debe ser la base de todas las relaciones. Parece que en su relación de Lucía y Jon han hecho precisamente eso.

Check this out. Jon says about Lucia, “I knew from the very first gaze at her eyes that those were the eyes of the one who will be my forever-person.” And Lucia says, “We make each other laugh and bring out the best in each other.”

However, they are honest about a truth, one that we seldom mention at weddings, but we should, that marriage is work. Lucia says, “I love being in a partnership with Jon. It feels very natural but also challenging.” Jon acknowledges, “She challenges me in all the best ways.” 

Miren esto. Jon dice sobre Lucía: "Supe desde la primera vez que la miré a los ojos que esos eran los ojos de quien será mi persona para siempre". Y Lucía dice: “Nos hacemos reír y sacamos lo mejor de cada uno”.

Sin embargo, son honestos sobre una verdad, una que rara vez mencionamos en las bodas, pero deberíamos, que el matrimonio es trabajo. Lucia dice: “Me encanta estar en una relación con Jon. Se siente muy natural pero también desafiante”. Jon reconoce: "Ella me desafía de las mejores maneras".

It is this type of true honesty that can foster the deepest of relationships. To wit, listen to Jon’s full quote: “Lucia is the grounded, organized, level-headed bedrock without which my river would run aimlessly. She challenges me in all the best ways, forcing me to grow and to be my best self.” Deep, right?

Es este tipo de verdadera honestidad el que puede fomentar las relaciones más profundas. A saber, escuche la cita completa de Jon: “Lucia es el lecho de roca firme, organizado y sensato sin el cual mi río correría sin rumbo. Ella me desafía de las mejores maneras, obligándome a crecer y a ser mi mejor yo”. Profundo, ¿verdad?

It is this type of true honesty that enables both of them to share this almost identically worded thought, “We've shared our goals, passions, and dreams with one another.” It is this type of honesty that enables Lucia to sum it up in these words, “We are excited to commit to each other.”

Es este tipo de verdadera honestidad lo que les permite a ambos compartir este pensamiento redactado de manera casi idéntica: "Hemos compartido nuestras metas, pasiones y sueños". Es este tipo de honestidad lo que le permite a Lucía resumirlo en estas palabras: “Estamos emocionados de comprometernos el uno con el otro”.

Friday, September 9, 2022

Dream Big

On Saturday, September 3, 2022, I officiated Rachel and Jonathan’s wedding at the Dream Castle Event Venue in Broussard, Louisiana. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Call me crazy, but I love it when couples’ stories about how they met slightly differ depending on which partner you ask. It’s a good sign that we are talking about interesting people. In that regard, Rachel and Jonathan do not disappoint!

Rachel says, “The first time I saw Jonathan, my boss was introducing me to different individuals in the company since I was brand new. He was wearing a white shirt and had his hair in his typical (what I call dinosaur) hairstyle… Two months later, we were assigned to a project together. He was loud, opinionated (haha), sassy and a person that I thought I would never be with, let alone fall in love with and marry.” Yikes.

Jonathan begins from what I surmise is an instance related to that project: “First time we ever met… it was about a complaint we received for one of my accounts, but another underwriter was the one who made the mistake… We argued over something that was on my desk and I ended up being right and she was wrong (smiley face emoji).” Wow, how many men live to tell that kind of tale?

The point of sharing these anecdotes is not just to embarrass the bride and groom. That’s just a fringe benefit, LOL. The point is that I believe that this sense of light-heartedness has helped them become the new little family they are. 

To wit, Jonathan describes how their relationship went from just professional to romantic: “A few months go by and her and a group of mutual friends stand by me while I was going through some challenges. One of these friends said that I should talk to her. I decided she was the prettiest girl who I knew didn’t have a girlfriend at the time. (He may have meant to write boyfriend. I honestly don’t know.  It significantly changes the logical processes he was working through in his head, but who cares. - DSG) So I decided to shoot my shot.” And, here’s the kicker, “She decided to date me ever since.”

Again, the differences and similarities in description fascinate me, but listen to Rachel’s description: “Through a crazy series of events, we started dating in May of 2019. These (almost) past three years have shown me why Jonathan is the man I want to share my life with. Jonathan is so much more than that loud, opinionated, and sassy person I met three years ago. Don’t get me wrong, he still is those things (haha).”

I believe this kind of light-heartedness helps rather than hinders in appreciating the other qualities our partners bring to the relationship. As Jonathan says, in explaining why he is eager to marry Rachel, “She was kind and thoughtful throughout my hard times. She stands for what she believes and is grounded in her faith. She treats my daughter as her own. She can be stubborn and a little crazy but she keeps life interesting and fun. She’s a great mom now to Abigail and will be to our future children.”

Rachel reflects that sentiment back, “He is a person who strives to be the best person he can be and works hard every day at it. Jonathan often asks me how he can be better and what he can work on in our relationship. He is someone who dreams big and he follows those dreams. He is a person who cares deeply. Jonathan is an amazing father to our little girl, Abigail. Jonathan is dependable, trustworthy, patient, goofy, and a little weird.

However, it is not just who Jonathan is, but who he makes me. Jonathan inspires me to be better. Jonathan supports me and motivates me to follow my dreams. He makes me think about things differently and work hard to try to understand those things.”

Rachel ends with this: “This life we have built with our beautiful little family, Abigail, Sadie, Taz, and Vader is more than I could have ever dreamed of or hoped for. (In case you are wondering, the latter three are dogs, not that I would totally put it past these two to name their human child for a movie character, but you’d probably go with Anakin. - DSG) Over the past three years, we have built a wonderful life together and I want to make it official in front of God, my family, and my friends.”

Sunday, September 4, 2022


On Friday, August 19, 2022, I officiated Jackie and Jake’s wedding at the Ibagari Boutique Hotel on the island of Roatan in Honduras. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

I’m somewhat hesitant to talk about the genesis of Jackie and Jake’s relationship. I mean, sure, a wedding is supposed to be romantic, but the language one should use at a wedding should not be too risqué. That said, this is the first meaningful thing Jackie said to Jake, so here goes. Brace yourselves. (Pause.) “HEY, YOU’RE IN MY CLASS!” Now, Jackie recounts this exclamation which happened in a bar, in lower case letters, but Jake spells it all out in upper case letters, so yes, their relationship began with a yell. 

Now, you might think that from there it was a straight line to where we are today. Jackie even continues, “That's how it all began.” However, in those words she is really performing a feint worthy of her favorite sport, futbol, because, her next words are, “We became friends that night,” and, “What emerged then was a beautiful friendship,” which is exactly what guys like to hear from interesting girls they meet.

You can hear that in Jake’s telling of the beginning of that friendship. This guy was a goner: “I knew from that first night that Jackie was someone special. I loved her energy; she was radiant. She was so outgoing and so much fun with a complete stranger at the time that she simply recognized from one of her classes. I quickly realized that this was a common theme, as I was unable to go anywhere on campus with Jackie without stopping multiple times for her to say hi to friends, in multiple languages, during the course of what normally would have been a ten-minute walk. I was also enormously impressed that someone so socially gifted could also be so brilliant. I had never met someone at all like her.” 

In all seriousness, though, starting off as good friends is actually at the root of the successful romantic partnership Jackie and Jake have built together. Jake says, “My wish to marry Jackie is rooted not only in what a special person she is, but also in the match that we make. Never had I felt such excitement and desire to spend time with someone, even in our friendship. We found that this sentiment translated naturally into our romantic relationship… We have enjoyed our common interests and passions, but perhaps more importantly appreciated and embraced our differences. 

Jackie recently found herself happily on top of a mountain in Southern California after hiking for hours in the rain, something she would have never previously dreamed of given her city-dwelling predilection. Likewise, Jackie and her family have fully immersed me in their Honduran culture, culminating in me trying… Curiles, a dish resembling mussels without the shell that are eaten fresh after being doused in lime juice… 

I have attended numerous church services with her and her family and was even married in their Basilica by a priest, something I would not have imagined previously. Similarly, Jackie has embraced my Jewish heritage by participating in celebration of Jewish holidays and even lighting the Hannukah candles in Honduras with her parents, a new experience for them and a special one for me. Jackie and I have expanded each other’s worlds immensely and I want nothing more than to continue to do so throughout the rest of our lives.”

It is just this type of difference that can allow for growth and evolution of one’s romantic relationship. As Jackie says, “We have learned to compromise and communicate better, and I know we both always have each other’s wellbeing and happiness in mind. Our relationship has evolved a lot… We have grown enough to recognize things that need more attention, things that should change, and things that we should continue to do in order to choose each other and our love every day.”

She adds, “I think back to the concept of enantiomers that we learned in organic chemistry, molecules that are non-superimposable mirror images of each other, like our hands. In a way they are opposite, but also incredibly similar. Two people from different countries, different religions, with different personalities, but at the same time that match together so well. We are not the same, yet our differences only add to our union. 

Throughout all of the ups and downs of the last few years, Jake is always the first person I want to talk to about everything with, whether I’m telling him about something that’s wrong or simply what I’m having for lunch. I am my happiest when we’re together, especially when he makes me laugh (which he does all the time). Regardless of what is going on around us, I know that he is my rock, my best friend, the left hand to my right hand.” 

Sunday, July 31, 2022

Yes, And.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deep Connections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 27, 2022

Rom Com on the Golf Course

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Why Not Now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 12, 2022

You Never Know What You Might Win

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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