For years, I never put much stock in ceremony. The marriage ceremony, for example, is nothing more than a tradition. It’s not legal until you get that certificate from the courthouse. So what’s the big deal with the ceremony?
It’s the pragmatist in me. Trim the fat; cut to the chase; conserve energy. Dragging it out just seemed useless. As I’ve aged, my views have changed. I’ve started to understand the importance of tradition, connection, and ceremony to a human being.
We are social animals and long to be connected, joined to a person, a family, a tribe. To a large degree, connections define who we are. There is a wonderful move entitled the Twilight Samurai where a low-ranking samurai is taking care of his two daughters and his mother-in-law after his wife died. Dear mom has lost most of her faculties, but whenever she meets someone (for the 4th time in some cases) she always asks, “And who are your people?”
Digging for that connection to the past is what ceremonies are about. My most recent collision with tradition came yesterday, when the familiar tune Pomp and Circumstance echoed through Spragins Hall on the campus of the University of Alabama in Huntsville. Several hundred black, square, tasseled mortar boards streamed into the room, among them a little 5 foot 2 inch women whom I have known all her life.
Speeches were made and the magic words blessed the crowed, “By the power vested in me by the board of trustees, I confer upon you the degree as recommended by the faculty.” I glanced down at the program booklet. There was her name, the first name under the heading Summa Cum Laude with an honor’s program indicator beside it.
I’ll admit, the lump in my throat got bigger and a tear misted over my eye. I thought back to her high school graduation where she gave a keynote address. I thought back to my own college graduation and the pride I felt. I drifted back to my own high school graduation ceremony held in the National Cathedral, now that’s ceremony!
I went further back to my mother’s disappointment at missing the perfect-attendance award because she missed one day of high school. Further back, my mind saw my father walking across the back forty to get to that old one-room school house. The image of a hand-held slate that taught my grand-father to read and write came to mind.
Now I understand the importance of ceremony, connections from the past to the future that strand the human existence together. Not heavy chains that bind us, but garlands that adorn us.