One of my favorite movies is Lawrence Kasdan’s 1985 western Silverado. The cinematography was breathtaking, the music exquisite, and the ensemble cast was incredible. Two words: John Cleese, in a western. Okay, that’s five words (and a comma), but what’s not to love? My favorite line is part of a conversation between Kevin Kline’s character Paden and the Midnight Star herself, Stella (Linda Hunt, aka Hetty on NCIS:LA). “…The world is what you make of it, friend;” she tells him. “if it doesn’t fit, make alterations…” That’s what I did this past Monday; I made alterations.
Memorial Day (“Decoration Day”, as my grandmothers referred to it) was one of those traditions my family of origin observed with (nearly) religious zeal. My grandparents were born just half a generation after the end of the Civil War, so we knew well what the day was really about but my mother insisted we include everyone, not just those who had died in service to our country. It was about honor, respect, remembrance and family for us.
Each year she lived and died by whether the peonies would be blooming at the right time, agonizing over every rainstorm (or lack thereof) in the weeks leading up to Memorial Day. We would have breakfast, then go out and cut the flowers – peonies in various shades of pink and white, blue irises, “sweetheart” roses. After arranging them in Hi-C cans, she would carefully nestle the bouquets into boxes in the trunk of our car along with a few gallons of extra water, lecture my father about his driving, and off we would go to leave flowers at the various cemeteries where our family members are buried. We always ended the day at my paternal grandmother’s house, along with most of the rest of my dad’s family.
Our tradition of observing Memorial Day and the way we always did it shaped who I am today. Visiting the places where the remains of those I’m bound to by birth, genetics, and experience are laid to rest and hearing those family stories told over and over again grounded me, clarified and informed my sense of identity, and nurtured those family connections.
I’ve often turned to traditions and rituals like that for comfort since Bill’s death, and I felt the pull of that on Memorial Day. I wanted to stand on those postage stamps of earth and leave flowers; to intentionally take time to honor; to show respect; to remember. But I’m 1100 miles away now.
Sometimes traditions and rituals can be a solid rock on which to anchor and build our lives; they can provide identity, encouragement and support. Sometimes they become ruts we get stuck in or useless albatrosses dangling around our necks. And there are times when it is no longer possible to continue doing those things we’ve always done, no matter how much we want to. We reach a point where things “no longer fit”, and we have to make alterations. So I did.
I did some “normal Monday” things on Memorial Day this past week – laundry and starting this blog post - so I wasn’t obsessing (too much) over what I wanted to do and couldn’t. And when I did think of all those people whose graves I would have visited had I been in Illinois, I gave thanks for their lives, for all that was good in them, and for all the ways they’ve influenced me.
And as I pondered that throughout the week, it occurred to me that God does this with and for us all the time. The vocabulary is different – Scripture uses terms like salvation, redemption, restoration, new covenant, grace - but God’s Word is basically one long and glorious record of the Holy One ‘making alterations’ when things no longer “fit” or worked, so there was always a means by which we could be in relationship with our Creator, with each other, and with ourselves. (Thanks, Jen!)
What were some of the most important or memorable traditions and rituals when you were growing up? How did those observances shape who you are today?
Are any of those traditions or rituals still part of your life?
Are there places where you’ve had to “make alterations”? To leave behind what you’d always done and create new rituals and traditions? What things had to change and why? What was that like for you?
"...See, I am doing a new thing... I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland." Isaiah 43:19, NIV