When my mother died at age 92 she had left instructions requesting a full-on Catholic rite of burial, which we were able to arrange at the church where she and my father had been married. The officiating clergy didn’t know a thing about Margaret other than that she was Catholic, which was enough to set in motion the long-established and rigidly choreographed ritual. There was even a set amount with which we were asked to tip the officiating priest. I’m glad Margaret got what she wanted – as everyone should. For me, the ceremony seemed distant, impersonal and formulaic. I drew little comfort from the fact that Catholics have been getting buried with the same words and the same gestures for centuries. I couldn’t wait to get to the repast afterwards where we could all drink a little wine, share some food, and get real.
A Jewish friend visited Israel, and she told me that two of her most moving moments were standing on Masada and at the Western Wall, praying as Jews have prayed for thousands of years. She drew great comfort from being like all other Jewish men and women standing reverently at those places.
People clearly have a different level of need and tolerance for tradition and ritual. I learned a long time ago that I score pretty low on both counts. I’d much rather put in the time and effort to construct something new, something truly reflective of the person – as we did when Jerry died. Those events are one-of’s, like the creation of a sacred mandala. They exist for the moment, and then they live only in memory. The exact ritual being repeated another day, for a different person, is not the goal.
Our next family ritual will be Archie’s first birthday, coming up early in September. Knowing Matt and Amy, the celebration will be deeply personal and reflective of their young family and the way they’d like to celebrate this milestone for their baby.
I find this attraction to tradition and ritual – or not – quite intriguing. Where do you stand on the continuum of “love it” v. ” couldn’t care less and prefer something unique to the event being celebrated”?