When I first heard that my friends Tom and Michele were getting married, I was delighted. Even better, they invited me to provide one of the readings for the wedding.
The only problem was that the wedding was taking place in Litchfield, New Hampshire, about 3,000 miles away from my home base. And with two small kids of my own, I had to minimize my time away from home.
Thus I embarked on my wedding odyssey.
Friday 9:30 PM Pacific: Leave home to drive to the San Francisco Airport.
Friday 10:00 PM Pacific: Arive at long-term parking. Rates have risen again. Now it’s $13.95/day. Crap, last time I flew, it was $8.95. Damned inflation.
Friday 10:30 PM Pacific: Arive at the airport, hurry through security, and make it to the gate.
Friday 11:19 PM Pacific: My flight takes off.
Saturday 12:00 AM Pacific: I slip on my eyeshade and try to get some sleep. I doze fitfully until 3:30 AM, by which time I’ve entered the Eastern time zone, and dawn is streaming in through the windows.
Saturday 7:30 AM Eastern: Touch down in the D terminal of Washington Dulles. Imediately set out for my connecting flight, which is scheduled to depart from A terminal. 15 minutes later, including a bus ride, I arrive at the gate to discover that my flight has been moved to…D terminal. Another 15 minutes later, I arrive at the gate.
Saturday 8:30 AM Eastern: My flight takes off bound for Manchester, New Hampshire.
Saturday 10:00 AM Eastern: Arrive into Manchester and call the groom. 10 minutes later, he and his two sons pick me up, and we spend the 10-minute drive to the house discussing the latest developments in unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) technology. Aparently JP and LJ (who are 12 and 7) are big fans of military contractors like Raytheon.
Saturday 10:20 AM Eastern: Arrive at Tom’s house and get the grand tour, including a visit to see the famous Kuegler chickens. Tom’s 18 “girls” have really grown. He proudly tells me that the coop is self-sustaining, and that he only has to clear out the dung once a year. JP and LJ show me their toy room, which contains enough LEGO, radio controlled vehicles, and Nerf weaponry to equip your average elementary school. Clearly I was born too early.
Saturday 11:30 AM Eastern: We drive over to the wedding site, which is Unums, the hottest restaurant in New Hampshire. Owner Steve Williams, a former high-tech CEO, has built a dream team, including an award-winning chef and Jared, the world’s greatest bartender. I later sample a Midori/coconut concoction that confirms his mark of distinction. JP engages me in an earnest conversation where I attempt to convince him that the conflict between the US and Japan in World War II was not inevitable, but rather the result of poor decision making by the Japanese military brass. Naturally, I point out that the great Admiral Yamamoto warned the high command that Japan would lose a war with the United States, but carried out the attack on Pearl Harbor regardless.
Saturday 12:00 PM Eastern: The wedding commences, with a ring ceremony, my speech (reprinted at the end of this post), and the Native American blessing that seems to have become de rigeur. I don’t think this is the right time to point out that this ancient Indian blessing was actually written for a 1950s western.
Saturday 12:30 PM Eastern: Steve and his team serve a magnificent four-course feast. My personal favorite? The spinach and ricotta gnocchi, with mustard cream, Jones ham, smoked honey drizzle, and garlicky breadcrumbs.
I may be locked in a struggle to the death in my biggest loser competition, but food like this demands to be eaten.
Saturday 3:30 PM Eastern: I leave the wedding for Logan airport, hitching a ride, ironically enough, with the newlyweds. Since Tom promised to get me to the airport, the easiest thing to do was to share their limo.
Saturday 4:30 PM Eastern: Arrive at Logan Airport. Logan is surely one of the world’s worst airports, and driving to the airport brought back all sorts of unpleasant memories (I have probably flown into and out of Logan over 100 times, which is 100 times too many).
Saturday 4:45 PM Eastern: My god, $1.99 for bottled water? Airport merchants should just write checks directly to the TSA.
Saturday 5:00 PM Eastern: After 15 minutes of searching, I finally spot a water fountain. I wonder how long it will be before they rip that out too.
Saturday 5:30 PM Eastern: Board plane for flight to San Francisco.
Saturday 6:00 PM Eastern: Find out that the plane’s engine has a *hole* in it, and that there are no other flights to San Francisco on any other airlines.
Saturday 6:30 PM Eastern: After 30 very nervous and profanity-laced minutes, find out that the airline has been able to secure another plan, so that we’ll be able to depart (hopefully) at 8:30, 2.5 hours late.
Sunday 12:30 AM Pacific: Arive back in San Francisco.
Total travel time: 25 hours from departure to return.
Time in the air: 13.5 hours.
Time spent in airports or limos: 7.5 hours
Time at the wedding: 3.5 hours.
It might seem like madness to travel 7,000 miles in 25 hours to spend 3.5 hours at a wedding, but such are the bonds of friendship!
Appendix A: The Wedding Speech
About 90 minutes south of here, Professor Tal Ben-Shahar of Harvard teaches a course on happiness that, in a few short years, has grown into the most popular class at the university. He writes, “For a human being, the ultimate currency is not money, not is it any external measure, such as fame, fortune, or power. The ultimate currency for a human being is happiness.” In other words, all the other things we pursue…money, power, fame…all of these are ultimately simply means to an end.
Our history and way of life are founded on this principle. In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote that the three inalienable rights possessed by all are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Yet even today, in this, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, many of us fail in Jefferson’s quest.
We pursue happiness indirectly and ineffectually, throwing our energies into chasing the means, when if we had the clarity and courage, we could reach out and earn the ultimate currency directly.
Both Tom and Michele have achieved much in their lives.
Tom has been an All-American athlete, a politician, has built and sold business since his teen years, and helped build a multi-billion-dollar company.
Michele excelled in school, earned degrees in both criminal justice and education, and as a teacher in her childhood school, taught nine classes, and led both her library and her union.
But worldly success, no matter how great, cannot guarantee happiness.
Yet despite all the achievements and events in their lives, both Tom and Michele felt, in the immortal words of U2, “But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”
The science of positive psychology tells us that there are three things above all others that bring us happiness. The first is finding work that uses your abilities and engages your imagination. The second is being able to feel a sense of personal growth. And the third is finding a life partner with whom you have a close and loving relationship.
Many aren’t lucky enough to find any of these things in their lives. Most aren’t lucky enough to find all of them. And rare indeed is it for two people to find them all in each other.
I’ve known Tom a long time. I’ve worked with Tom and spoken to him on a daily basis for over eight years. It’s been great to see how finding Michele has energized him. He’s found work at which he excels and which he truly loves. He’s grown a tremendous amount in the past year. And he’s found in Michele a wonderful partner. I’ve never seen him happier–even after a good night at the poker table.
While I haven’t known Michele as long, I’ve had the pleasure of working with her this past few months, and I’ve seen how they make a wonderful team. As all of Tom’s friends and family know, the last words you’d ever use to describe him are “careful” and “diplomatic”. Michele balances his zest for life with level-headed responsibility–even when the responsibility for 18 baby chickens are thrust upon her.
We are gathered here today to both commemorate and celebrate their decision to pursue happiness together. May they always be rich in the ultimate currency…though getting some of that green stuff along the way never hurts.