What’s Your Workout Plan?

Lazy girlA woman goes to try on wedding dresses. The dress attendant asks: “So what’s your workout plan?”

No joke. Neither is the picture, at left, or the images you will get if you do a search for “workout plans.”  Try it, if you want to get inundated with images of what America thinks are healthy bodies.  Expect, if you have a feminist bone in your body, to find the experience upsetting.

It is, of course, incumbent upon all American brides to lose weight and turn into Kate Moss for the actual ceremony. But does a wedding dress attendant have any business asking such a question to anyone regardless of their proportions? Classify this under “rude” and “intrusive.”

Also: The question is predicated on the prevailing notion that a wedding is all about how the bride looks and that every last one wants – or needs – to lose weight.

Dress size is not relevant, heart-size is.

Just now, I am working with a mother whose child is approaching his bar mitzvah. Her anxieties about finding the right dress for her child’s bar mitzvah strike me as running along rather similar tracks. She has discussed these worries with both my husband and me. Why?

Wretched excess is par for the course at family simchas.

More than a decade ago, my then twelve-year-old son, Erik, and I attended a bar mitzvah that boasted a Caribbean theme. Little umbrellas were everywhere, along with tropical fruit decorations. The décor must have cost thousands of dollars. The family had hired a steel drum band that only knew the first part of Hava Nagila. This led to endless loops of the same opening verse, which led to dance step confusion. What about “uru.. uru achim…”?

I began to rant as soon as we left, listing all the absurd b’nai mitzvah “themes” I had seen in my life. Finally, I imploded.

“Why not the shtetl?” I asked Erik. “Let’s do something that belongs to our history. Poverty and potato soup!”

“Why not Siberia?” he asked. “Solitary confinement!”

“Why not the ghetto?” I rejoined. “Disease and dread!”

Suffice it to say that there was no theme at Erik’s bar mitzvah. There was no band. There was no catering. We had a pot luck.

We did mark the fact that Erik was reading from Parsha Noach by lining up little rubber animals we got from a dollar store on each table in rows of two. Adults played with tiny camels, anteaters, and a few dinosaurs that didn’t make it in time to the ark.

What is the purpose of such ritual celebrations?

A wedding is when two people stand publicly in holy space they have made with one another and for one another. They allow beloved family members and some friends to witness the existence of that space. Witnesses are given a window into a miracle: What (true) love looks like.

You can see the same kind of miracle at a baby naming. You can watch it unfold in the lined faces and graying hair of the couple celebrating their fiftieth anniversary. You can see it in the faces of parents watching their children leyn from a Torah scroll. You will find true love in abundance at funerals.

It is so simple for officiants and family alike: Offer the holy space of the couple’s love, the child’s miraculous (always) birth, the teen’s learning, the gifts the deceased gave to others during his or her life. Provide opportunities for tears and laughter. Understand the power of witnessing.

I interview all the couples I officiate for. During the interview I type about four or five pages of notes – single spaced, no less. I learn their story. They tell me about themselves, about sad and wonderful times, about who they want to be.

Various aspects of the ceremony come from these notes – most importantly, the message I deliver.

The message is meant to be a prose poem. Its theme is the holy and unique space that belongs to that couple. I describe the partnership they have created together, the marriage they will make.

Recently, a groom asked me for a copy of my notes. He didn’t care that they might not always be in perfect sentences and well-crafted paragraphs. He wanted the raw stuff of my message. He planned to frame each page and hang them before his wife’s desk. She would raise her eyes from her work and see the stories she had told me about the way he had become her friend, partner, lover, and husband.

I witnessed, from afar, what happened when he gave her this gift. She held up, ever so carefully and slowly, each frame. She scanned the section about her pumpkin sweater, about the way he had his grandmother’s ring resized for her.

What was her workout plan (or his)?

To create a wedding in which they could declare, with love all around them, what their love had become. To invite the small group that was present – to share and to witness the couple’s hope and to relive and revive their own.

You know, I think it worked out.

6 Replies to “What’s Your Workout Plan?”

  1. Yes, the workout plan is rather intrusive and unnecessary for sure. I loved the way you expressed the space for certain occasions, that was really so right. I am glad Richard included one of our wedding pictures in his reply to your blog.
    It is hard to,believe that we will be married 60 years next year. It has been and is a wonderful life we have and our love grows each year for each other. Thank you for such a thoughtful blog.

  2. Love it!!! It makes me sick to see how our society has distorted the real meaning of some of the most magical moments of our lives. Thanks for remind us of keep perspective about what is really important.

    1. It’s a task sometimes, because I think the people we serve sometimes get lost in the performance rather than the holy space we need to share. Thanks for your comment, Ileanah!

  3. I count it as a personal treasure to know you as someone who wants to help families make an occasion memorable for themselves, not as actors in a great public drama. The wedding I attended three weeks ago had the same atmosphere, loving and personal, and the officiant was also a woman. Okay, that makes two of you.

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