June 9, 1984 was my bat mitzvah, the day I wore a pink leather miniskirt and handmade sweater (thanks, Mom), and recited the Hebrew I’d spent a year learning from the bimah at Temple Israel and earned the right to dance and party with my friends on a lake all afternoon long.
My theme was music and every table was named after a famous musical act. My table was The Beatles, another was Michael Jackson. It was full-on ‘80s culture, and we had big hair and big ideas and white patent leather flats and dance floor games from a Joe Cornell DJ who earned the right to his own page in my photo album.
I invited more girls than boys because that’s what you do in middle school. I had visions of romance and a long life ahead and the things I would do and places I’d go. And best of all, I got to walk in to a crowded room of people who were there because they loved me, applauding as I wore my embarrassed smile up to the dance floor to take the mic. I even wore a wrist corsage.
Back then, parties weren’t overblown or out of control, at least not in my circles. My mother, aunts and Mom’s friends gathered in our suburban kitchen for weeks before the party, melting chocolate to pour into molds the shape of a 45 record. They packaged them in boxes with clear plastic inserts so we could see the delicious treat through the window and customized the favor with stickers. It was a DIY approach to lifecycle milestones and I can’t imagine anything more special.
My kids are getting older – school ends on Wednesday. And soon enough, I’ll have a bar mitzvah to plan. We have no plans yet but conversations are in full swing. I’m a big believer in the meaning behind the moments, not the ministrations of those who care what others think and seek to impress.
For me, a bar mitzvah should mean something to the kid reading the Torah – I don’t care if his voice cracks or his suit fits funny. It’s his day (or hers), not mine to manipulate.
And really, that’s the message for all important moments. A year ago, Dan and I celebrated our love and commitment with 60-some family members and just a few good friends. It was all focused on the kids. We wrote the words we would say and hand-picked the people to perform our marriage ceremony. It was as intimate as it gets, with the kids jumping in the lake fully-clothed because the day was so damn hot.
Organic. Authentic. Real. That’s the only way to do anything anymore.
In another week, I’ll turn 41. Remember last year? I set out to do 40 things that make the world better and in the process, made myself a whole lot better, too. Perhaps that’s the real reason behind it all – we do for others because it makes us better, too. I’m not saying selfish here – I’m saying the only real way to improve the Self is to look outside, at others, and reach a hand to help someone climb the mountain. You’ll get to the top, too – every single time.