Our whole family just returned from five days in Paris. We were there for the wedding of my son Brendan. He married Erin Pearson from Waco, Texas — a beautiful and brilliant young woman whom we’ve all grown to love over the last number of years. I co-officiated the ceremony with the Rev. Tom Pearson, Erin’s father. Here are some remarks inspired by the occasion:
Marriage Is a School for Character: Embrace Its Challenges
I’m so proud of this couple. It’s truly a marriage made in heaven. Both Erin and Brendan are hugely qualified public servants. Their shared passion is serving the world and changing it for the better.
Both partners here have studied at Harvard. Erin is a Ph.D. researcher and public health professional. She works across the Global South on women’s reproductive health issues.
Brendan is a career diplomat with our country’s State Department. Currently stationed in Paris, he has previously worked in Mexico, D.C., Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
Knowing just that much about them gives some idea about why I think of them as a truly Dynamic Duo. For them, the sky’s the limit in terms of the impact for good that their union promises to the planet.
Again, I couldn’t be prouder of them or more honored to co-officiate with Erin’s father, Tom, at this wedding ceremony.
But what does a father and father-in-law tell two smart people that might help them in their marriage which begins this momentous day?
There are three things that come to mind – three reminders.
The first is simply that you two deserve heart-felt congratulations. Congratulations for having the courage to take this huge step in your personal growth. You’re both aware that the vows you exchange this day enroll you in what many have called “a school for character.”
The marriage curriculum is daunting. And even though you are both brilliant scholars, you’ll find that what you’ll be taught by married life will be far more challenging than anything you experienced in Cambridge MA. Despite knowing that (as I’m sure you do), it’s wonderful that you’re taking this giant step anyway. Doing so implies that at some level, your desire to join forces to serve others as a couple transcends personal gratification. Again, congratulations for such noble generosity.
Of course, it’s your deep love for each other that impels you to take this step which today seems relatively easy. And that brings me to my second reminder. It’s this: Never forget the vision of each other that you have this moment – the one you had when you first saw each other across a crowded room. Don’t listen to the world’s wisdom about that. The world will eventually try to persuade you that the person you saw across that room was a deceptive illusion and that the trying one you’ll experience in day-to-day living is the truth. However, it’s just the opposite. The one you saw when you first fell in love is the truth. The one you’ll eventually wonder about is the illusion. Your task as a married couple is to work towards that truth about each other you saw years ago and whom you see so lovingly today. Never forget the vision you now share. That’s the truth of this union. Hold on to it; work towards its daily realization. That’s your challenging task.
My third reminder is about dealing with married life’s ups and downs. And here my reminder is best brought out by telling a story. The great spiritual teacher, Eckhart Tolle, tells of a Zen master who communicated to his student the secret of dealing with life’s changes good and bad.
The student was about to leave on a year-long journey. Before going, he asked the master for a practice he might use while on his trip. He complained, “Look, I’ve been here in the monastery for five years. I’ve been a good monk and have done everything according to the book. But I still haven’t achieved enlightenment. Help me.”
“Well,” the master said, “here’s something I’d recommend. . . No matter what happens to you during the coming year, simply accept it with the words, ‘This is good. It could not be better. Thank you. I have no complaints whatsoever.’”
The student was surprised. “You mean that’s it?” he asked.
“Yes,” the master said. “No matter what happens to you – good, bad, or indifferent, wonderful or tragic – say, ‘This is good; it couldn’t be better. Thank you. I have no complaints whatsoever.’”
With that, the student left on his trip.
A year later, he returned completely frustrated. He said, “Master, I did what you said. No matter what happened to me, pleasant or unpleasant, I always said, ‘This is good; it could not be better; thank you; I have no complaints whatsoever. But nothing has changed. I haven’t yet achieved enlightenment.’”
The master paused a long time. “Hmm. . .,” he said. “Hmm . . .” Finally, he broke the silence and said, “This is good; it could not be better. Thank you. I have no complaints whatsoever.”
The student heard that . . . He pondered . . . And at that moment, he achieved enlightenment.
In the light of that story, my recommendation is that you adopt the Zen master’s practice in your married life. No matter what happens to you good, bad, indifferent, tragic or incredibly wonderful, say to yourselves, “This is good; it could not be better. Thank you. I have no complaints whatsoever.” It’s a reminder that simply being alive is a gift. Simply having each other is a gift. Being challenged by the married-life curriculum is a gift.
So, Erin and Brendan, congratulations. Always work towards the vision you had of each other across that crowded room. And always be grateful for everything – even the difficult and painful.
With all of that in mind, we all wish you well. We join you in saying of your marriage, of this wonderful day in Paris, and of life in general “Thank you, Lord. This is incredibly good. It could be no better. We have no complaints whatsoever.”