No, really…thank you for coming. Because I’ve been that woman in the minivan with the cracker crumbs and the car seats and the fighting. Before DVDs in the car and after DVDs in the car. And I’ve been that woman who got up at 4:30 a.m. to catch the only Spirit flight of the day. I’ve been that woman who wanted nothing more on a Shabbos morning than to roll over and go back to sleep. And I’ve even been that woman who, for whatever reason, found it painful to be your simcha, but came anyway.
Because I couldn’t imagine you celebrating a milestone and not being there to share it with you.
And now here you are doing the same for me. Leaving your home, your family (or bringing them with you – I’m not sure which is harder!), your comfortable bed and routine to be there for me at my simcha. I understand the sacrifice, big or small, and I truly appreciate it. And I want you to know just how much.
While they are somewhat cliché at this point, I remember the first time I saw a response card that proclaimed across the top, “A simcha becomes a simcha when shared with family and friends.” I was moved by the deep truth behind that sentiment. A simcha first and foremost is an acknowledgment that Hakadosh Baruch Hu has granted us the great gift of moving through life’s cycles. But knowing that it matters to others means that we matter to others. That somewhere along the line their circle of “me” expanded to include me and my family. That we somehow make a difference to someone else. That our simcha is their simcha and that our milestones mean something to them as well.
I’ve been accused of going overboard at my simchas. I accept the verdict and proudly declare myself guilty as charged. Because every gesture, every guest bag, every tuna quiche, and every note is intended to convey that depth of gratitude. My entire goal as a hostess is that every guest should leave knowing that, without them, my simcha truly would not have been the same.
The invitation list is an inventory of sorts. Who shapes my world? How has that changed over the last few years? How many new relationships have been forged since we last pulled up the Excel sheet? How many have been lost or weakened through circumstance, choice, or the natural course of life? What additions must be made to the family file? Who moved? What young couples have joined “sheet 2,” the family tab? Who needs another column added to include “and family”? All these give me pause as I take stock of the important things – the blessings from Hashem and our connection to others. Along with the relief of completing this most tedious task comes an overwhelming sense of gratitude and awareness of the role each person plays in my life and that of my family.
I am often moved at that point to share those bubbling feelings. I love to write personalized notes on the invitation telling each guest how much I treasure them and our bond. Try it at your next simcha. You feel it…why not say it? You’d be amazed at how much sappy sentimentality you’re forgiven on the heels of a simcha.
And once the responses start coming in, that’s when the fun begins!
I believe you can have a perfectly simchadik simcha without all the meshigas. You can be just as grateful that your guests came whether or not you patchke. And your guests can have as meaningful a time without the myriad of details.
But I also believe that when you invest in hundreds of details and infuse each one with gratitude and love, your guests soak it up and internalize the feeling. Everything about my guest bags says, “I’m so glad you’re here. I hope you have everything you need to be comfortable and enjoy yourself.” When you come to a stranger’s home and a tote is waiting on your bed with a schedule, snacks, toiletries, Shout wipes, and bottled water, you can’t help but feel cared for. It feels like somebody is really glad you’re here. And when there’s a bag for your kids with coloring books and tchotchkes, you know they really mean it. Every one of you matters!
You need a ride from the airport? No problem. Your baby needs a Pack ’n Play? It’s already at your hosts’ house. Please let me know if there’s anything else you need. I’m so happy you’re here!
While I’ve never been great at algebra, I’ve discovered the simplest, most potent formula ever. Food + family + friends = fun!!! I’ve also learned the food law of inverse proportions (in case you don’t know that one, it’s because I made it up). People’s protests and loud announcements of fullness are inversely proportionate to the actual quantity of food they will consume. In layman’s terms, that means that the more they complain, the more likely they are to eat. Brunch moves into erev Shabbos kugel without a blink. The seuda transitions seamlessly into oneg, and kiddush flows into the Shabbos seuda, the afternoon nosh, and then shalosh seudos. Despite groans and absolute declarations of an inability to consume another morsel, melaveh malka is thoroughly demolished. I feed the people I care about. And if I’ve fed you from the moment you crossed my threshold till the moment you left, well then, take it as a sign of how much I care. (Disclaimer: I’m not advocating any of this or pretending it’s functional; I’m just saying it’s how I roll.)
And if you happen to notice your favorite dish at the brunch, it’s not an accident. Everything topped with streusel for the Yekkes. Shawarma for the Israelis. And challah with no sesame for your allergic child. Sit down, make yourself comfortable, stay a while.
The challenge, of course, is speaking to the tree in the midst of the forest. Mangled metaphor to be sure, but it conveys the message nonetheless. In the chaos of it all, the most treasured moments are those where I get to chap a schmooze with each of my guests. And if sleep is sacrificed on the altar of connection, well then, so be it! It’s a trade well worth making. Technology has done much to keep families in touch in far-flung places, but nothing replaces a good old-fashioned face-to-face chat.
I never take for granted that anyone will be at my simcha. Life is such that even good intentions are often thwarted. So when I look each guest in the eye as they wish me mazel tov and I say to them, “Thank you so much for being here,” I am thanking Hashem for everything their presence means and thanking them for including me in their circle of people they care about.
And when I run after you with a peckel packed with tzeida laderech, I want you to know you are cherished, both now and long after you leave.
Thank you for coming.