"So," he said, "you were divorced. Now you want to marry this good Jewish boy. What's the problem?"
He nestled his grizzled chin in his hand and smiled softly at me. I wanted to shriek. What's the problem? First of all, I'm Christian. Second, I'm older than he is. Third - and not least, by any means - I'm divorced! Instead, I looked back into his soft brown eyes and tried to form the words,"Don't you think," I stuttered, "That being divorced is like being used? Like being damaged goods..."
He settled back in the office chair and stretched so that he was looking at the ceiling. He stroked the scraggly beard that covered his chin and his neck. Then, he returned to his spot behind the desk and leaned toward me.
"Say you have to have surgery. Say you have a choice between two doctors. Who are you going to choose? The one right out of medical school or the one with experience?" "The one with experience," I said. His face crinkled into a grin. "I would, too," he locked his eyes with mine. "So in this marriage, you will be the one with experience. That's not such a bad thing, you know.
"Often, marriages tend to drift. They get caught in dangerous currents. They get off course and head toward hidden sandbars. No one notices until it is too late. On your face, I see the pain of a marriage gone bad. You will notice the drift in this marriage. You'll call out when you see the rocks. You'll yell to watch out and pay attention. You'll be the person with experience," he sighed. "And believe me, that's not such a bad thing. Not bad at all."
He walked to the window and peeked between the slats of the blinds. "You see, no one here knows about my first wife. I don't hide it, but I don't make a big deal about it. She died early in our marriage before I moved here." Between tears, he said, "Now, late at night I think of all the words I never said. I think of all the chances I let pass by in that first marriage and I make every moment count in this one. I believe I'm a better husband to my wife today, because of the woman I lost."
For the first time, the sadness in his eyes had meaning. Now I understood why I chose to come talk to this man about marriage instead of taking an easier route and getting married outside both our religions. The word "rabbi" means teacher. Somehow I sensed he had just taught me, or even lent me, the courage I needed in order to try again, to marry again and to love agin.
"I will marry you and your David," said the rabbi. "If you promise me that you will be the person who yells out when you see the ship headed for the rocks...when you sense the marriage is in danger." I promised him I would, and I rose to leave. "By the way," he called to me as I hesitated in his doorway, "did anyone ever tell you that Joanna is a good Hebrew name?"
Sixteen years have passed since the rabbi married David and I on a rainy October morning. And, yes, I have called out several times when I sensed we were in danger. I would tell the rabbi how well his analogy has served me, but I cannot. He died two years after our wedding. But I will always be grateful for the priceless gift he gave me: the wisdom to know that all of our experiences in life make us not less valuable, but more valuable, not less able to love, but more able to love.