Rites and Rituals

Rites and Rituals
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

Ends of seasons signal transitions, and the one from the long winter through the questionable spring before the hopeful leap into summer also engenders other endings and new beginnings in our society. These natural passages seem to dictate a deep intake of breath in our lives, for here, too, on the springboard into summer and growth, we also share in the new human beginnings symbolized by graduations and weddings -- two major pinnacles in our life journeys.

Having just immersed myself in a grandchild's graduation and a family wedding, it was time to stop and consider these rites of passage. The one, a symbol of accomplishment, of maturation, of stepping up and out to seek one's goals in a more adult and self-reliant life, and the other, the joining of two disparate spirits to move forward as one, creating their life-path as family.

And no matter what part of the world you're in, what ethnicity, what culture, these two steps are always suffused with rituals -- so heartening , so reassuring, so predictable and reminiscent -- their very repetition giving us a sense of security that life goes on in regular, knowable, prescribed ways. The deep feelings those participants share symbolize "as it was, so it will always be" -- an anchor in this turbulent sea in which we live our lives.

Graduation: From the notes of the Coronation March (which you can all sing as I say it, right?) to the memories of your own tremulous steps down that aisle, wearing such outlandish garb with such pride, feeling the love in the room and the solidity of the ceremony -- it's such a strong send off into that looming world. "See, some things are stable, they stay the same, life is solid, unified, old and repeatable -- no floating here," at the same time that the stomach flutters with, "Whoa -- I'm on my own now! No more routine -- no teachers and classes and papers and deadlines to anchor me. Can I do this? Swim out into the big stream and not only keep my head above water but actually reach a welcoming shore, one that I've dreamed of, maybe still don't see before me, one that will even let me in?"

Those fears need traditions -- the music, the ritual, the rolled diploma with your very own name, the cheers, the family hugs, the endless picture-snapping and flying goodbyes to old friends -- and to your old life. Those cut-loose fears need the security of the ritual to not only mark the place where you're pushing off from into the unknown -- a solid place in the world that launches you -- but to tell you that that there must be more organized, standing-still institutions and scenes and settings in the world where it will be safe for you to land and continue. The ceremony says that society has a structure -- that the rituals and symbols speak of a history, that others have done this, that it is a natural, healthy, supported step.

And so it is with weddings. From our earliest days we have always needed to step outside of daily life to create such an event -- for it is an event , a crucial event -- young people agreeing to join the flock, the herd, to take on the task of creating another unit and making it continue. Does this not deserve a community gathering? A celebration? The most exciting thing is to see this theme in its variations. How many weddings of different ethnic groups have you attended? And what is absolutely basic to all?

There must be music, food, drink, flowers, decorated tables, a religious service of some sort, an official declaration -- lots of new, yes, but never without the reminiscence of the old, especially in our great cultural melting-pot of a country. Just think about the symbols at a wedding -- the harking back to the past, such a needed base from which to build ongoing rituals.

What color does the bride wear? Not only white, but red in China and multi-colored in other countries, but veils and rings are everywhere -- all these symbols referring to purity, to luck, fertility, commitment and a new status in society. And the dancing: the need to move with joy and celebration, the harking back to the old ethnic dances of cultural heritage, somehow arriving at holding hands in a circle to join each other in the affirmation of our joint societal standards, the reiteration of our lasting beliefs and life patterns.

So, in these days of blinding-speed changes to the formats of our lives, it is so grounding to join in the old rituals, to observe and glow in the reassurance that there are some indestructible bulwarks that last -- that the rites of passage are memorialized in comforting, repetitive ceremonies. And what makes them speak? Music, costumes, a designated, unchanging script, an exchange of symbols, a belief in and acceptance of rites, of manners and modes that have gone before.

These remind us that there is a predictable evolution in our lives -- that we all share a common human heritage. That we not only watch but need to share rites and rituals as the predictable phases of our lives move through us. Let's always take the time and never let them slide away. They symbolize our core.

Go To Homepage

MORE IN Wellness