This past year — heck, this past couple of months! — has been full of transitions. Passages, they once were called. But there are few markers for so many of life’s changes. Aging, for instance, doesn’t have a ceremony, a certain day when the world recognises you as an ‘elder.’
Nor do the slung arrows of daily life, despite the scars they leave — often visible, often painful — serve as mile markers. Just one more broken bone, drop in activity, pound on the scale.
Some people mark birthdays. I never have. My old ladies worked until their late 70s, full-time jobs of hard physical labour. Cleaning ladies in banks, they were: the women who come invisibly after work and mop, scrub, dust & wax. All my old ladies — not just Grandma & Aunt Bonnie — gardened actively, so that 70 (even 80!) wasn’t so much a marker as a journey, one begun many years earlier.
There are windows we look through into our past lives, and doorways through which we walk. There are threshold spaces between then & now, now & still to come. Sometimes we linger. Sometimes we stumble quickly from one state of being into the next.
Yesterday my exquisite grandniece was christened. It was a gift of love from my niece & nephew to his mother, who is a devout Catholic. While my sister (my niece’s mother) also is a strong
Christian, many of our family aren’t Christian at all: we have a smattering of Buddhists, a couple of Wiccans, a few agnostics, and several atheists. So a christening is something I haven’t attended since I too gave the gift of my firstborn’s christening to my parent, this time my father.
Dressed in her antique family christening gown, little Julianna snuggled into the various arms of aunt, grandmothers, mother & father, godparents. She managed the whole lengthy sprinkle & intone ceremony with grace & aplomb. All the while serving as a tangible reminder of how important it is to remember the rôle of these ceremonial rituals.
As the priest spoke of the responsibilities of parents, godparents, & family, I was struck again by how we rose to the solemnity of the occasion. Despite my tendency to fidget (my beloved did have to kick me once), I watched in awe as the priest waited for my niece to feed the hungry newborn before the actual rites. My nephew — a very funny guy — wore the new mantle of fatherhood even more proudly than he does his police uniform. And both grandmothers were misty-eyed.
Not simply because Julianna is a breathtakingly lovely baby, but because here we sat, all together, gathered to participate in the dedication of this new life to something larger than all of us: faith. We gathered first in the church, then afterwards at a restaurant, joined to mark the birth of this new person, and her family’s promises.
All of this is by way of saying — clumsily & inarticulately — how much I see us losing as we move into an increasingly flat journey through our days. Far too few beautiful rituals, far too little pomp & circumstance to honour these doorways into new beginnings. And I miss them. I think we all do.
Here’s my newly minted resolution: I will find ways to frame the beauty of my life. Like handmade rock doorways, or stained glass windows, or carved stone lintels, I will mark my passages and the passages of those I love. This is the gift tiny Julianna has given me. Thank you, little one. I needed the reminder.