Jasmine Zheng & Benjamin Siegel-Wallace
Jasmine and Ben, electronically acquainted by dating app, met in person for Popsicles.
They laughed when they realized both wore bright red shoes that spring 2018 night, then enjoyed unearthed coincidences, witty banter, and a whole lot of chemistry.
Both had moved to Philadelphia about a year prior. Ben, who is now 34 and works for Texas-based health-care tech firm Iodine, grew up in Center City and had moved back home from D.C. – on Jasmine’s birthday. Jasmine, who is now 33 and a physical medicine and rehab doctor specializing in cancer care, moved here for a job at Penn Medicine. Born in Shanghai and raised in suburban Toledo, Ohio, and Kalamazoo, Mich., she had lived in D.C. some of the years Ben was there. Her parents live near Ann Arbor, as do Ben’s brother and sister-in-law.
Alas, shortened by her 30-some minutes of lateness on one end, and his dinner plans with friends on the other, their fun first date was just 45 minutes long. Conflicting schedules meant a two-week delay for their second, but they talked and texted. While they didn’t share the intel just yet, neither was interested in dating others.
“With [Ben] every time I went on another date it was just better and better and I liked him more and more,” Jasmine said. “I didn’t have to try.”
Besides, the man can cook! One night, Jasmine joined Ben and his youngest brother/roommate Samuel – for Ben’s take on burgers. Each ate a burger. Eyeing the remaining one, Jasmine asked if she could have it. Ben’s heart soared.
Part of the family
Ben could hear the caring in his voice whenever he spoke of Jasmine. “I kept telling [Samuel] how delightful and wonderful Jasmine was from the moment I met her. How absolutely gorgeous, driven, and funny she is,” he said. “It really was a no-brainer that she was what I had been searching for.”
He adored the way she became part of his family. First, she befriended Samuel. Jasmine bonded with his mother, Ellen, over the shared experience of raising the puppy siblings they had adopted. And the still-new doctor cherished every discussion she had with a very experienced one: Ben’s father, Richard.
Watching his father and his girlfriend grow close, Ben knew he had to share some difficult news: Richard had been battling cancer for more than a year.
Jasmine supported Ben through the difficult experience. She also took on the role that would have been Richard’s had he not been the patient: answering with kindness and honesty every difficult medical question the family had.
How does forever sound?
In September 2019, Ben cooked up a plan, then cooked dinner. On their rooftop table, he had placed his yogurt-and-herb-marinated chicken and a lidded bowl. “Jasmine, can you serve everyone some rice?” he asked.
She lifted the lid and found a small black box.
Jasmine willed herself to stay calm while she opened it, to avoid any awkwardness if it wasn’t what she was hoping for … but it was!
Jasmine pulled herself out of Ben’s embrace, put her hands on her hips, and smiled. “Aren’t you going to ask me something?” she asked. “I want to see you get on that knee!”
Ben knelt and the couple’s puppy, Leeloo, and Ben’s parents’ puppy, Skye, jumped and yelped excitedly.
After the question was asked and answered, they called Jasmine’s parents, Bob and Jean, and Ben’s mother, who had been visiting his father in the hospital. Ben always cooks extra, so Ellen joined them. They called Ben’s father to share the joy.
“You could hear in his voice how happy and relieved he was,” Ben said. “It was like he knew that I was going to be OK, because I have Jasmine.”
Ben’s father died a few weeks later.
It was so them
The couple postponed their Fairmount Horticulture Center wedding and reception, but married on their Graduate Hospital rooftop deck on May 16. Ben’s parents were married on May 19, Ben’s brother, Micah, and his wife, Rachel, on May 18, and Rachel’s parents, on May 17. Jasmine and Ben wanted to make it four in a row, and marrying within a year of Richard’s death felt like keeping a promise to him as well as to each other.
The couple’s wedding day began like a typical Saturday with brunch in the backyard. They and their photographer took socially distant photos outside the Horticulture Center. Coronavirus restrictions meant just five people would be physically present for the ceremony: the couple, Ben’s mother and local brother, and the photographer. More than 100 others would watch on Zoom.
The 6:30 p.m. start time came and went -- without Jasmine. She was ready, but a doctor who sees one of her patients had called seeking an opinion.
Ben’s mother gently told Jasmine that she needed to walk down the aisle. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t want to interrupt you, but I’m actually about to get married,” Jasmine told the other doctor. With his mazel tov, the wedding began.
An instrumental version of “Here Comes the Sun” played as Ben’s mother walked him across the deck. Jasmine walked with Leeloo and Skye. She wore a silky dress in red – the Chinese color of joy. Ben felt much joy as she joined him beneath their chuppah, which was covered with the same tallits that his parents stood beneath at their wedding in 1979.
Samuel led the ceremony, made official with a self-uniting license. Ben and Jasmine spoke the vows they wrote. They danced to “Acoustic” by Billy Raffoul and then Samuel played some klezmer music for a tiny hora. Later, the couple, Ben’s brother and mother, and Jasmine’s parents -- “seated” at the head of the table via Zoom – ate together.
Ben will always remember Jasmine’s wedding day delay with fondness. “If that had happened to me, I would have said, ‘I can’t talk right now; I’m getting married,‘ ” he said. “The only other person I know who this would have happened to is my dad.”
The couple had planned a trip to Paris and the French Alps; Florence, Italy; and the Greek islands. They booked fishing and museum trips, pasta-making classes, and imagined picnicking on the Seine.
Instead, “We went to France and Italy in Philly,” said Jasmine.
One night’s rooftop supper came from Parc. They followed an Italian woman’s video to make pasta. They filled a picnic basket with French wine and food from Rouge and enjoyed it at Schuylkill Banks.
An eventual reception