Friday, June 27, 2014

Rights of Passage

In Münster, Germany

June is one of those months, you know!  Weddings, graduations, and more weddings.

Did you know that in the Netherlands, when you graduate from secondary school, you hang your backpack outside your bedroom window…or somewhere in the front of your house, even on the flagpole!  The other day while walking in nearby Utrecht, we saw four backpacks hanging from a row of houses next to each other.  They’ll be friends for life, you can be sure.

Oh, and don’t forget all those June birthdays.  In my birth family, 3 of us 10 were born in June.  Yesterday Mom would have been 98.  Tomorrow brother Bennett would be 66, 3 years my junior.  He made it to 47.

Which leads to death, of course.  We don’t like to talk about this rite, even though it’s the surest of them all....

But where Astrid and I live in our senior community, it’s closer than I’ve ever experienced, except for when working in assisted living.  And it's here, surrounded by those so close to death, where I am learning to cherish the beauty of this rite, especially after a life well-lived.

For instance, Pie (pronounced pee), at age 98, is one chic lady who attends every Friday’s Happy Hour with the grace and stateliness of a queen.  If you ask her how she’s doing, she might mention the pain in her back but will add, with a serene smile, “Other than that, I’m just fine.”

And there’s Arend, age 86, who walks past our apartment two times every day to eat with his lady friend, Bettie, who’s 91.  He’s a widower, she a widow, both still wearing their wedding rings from past lives.  They do everything together, including cruises, bus trips and flights to nearby countries.  Though she’s quick to tell you they are NOT married, they are definitely companions…a right they both enjoy.

Speaking of Arend, I’m quite sure he is the model Shel Silverstein used in The Giving Tree for the caricature of the Boy who became the Old Man.  Every time I look at Arend’s wrinkled, gnarled face at Rummikub on Fridays, I see the boy a tree loved....

And I see death as a rite that is…a beautiful right to cherish.  Our last rite.  Our last right…even if totally unexpected (as with Marcie’s mother) or seemingly before its time (my brother)!

But way before that…and the Holy Communions and bar/bat mitzvahs, the sweet-16s, the driver’s licenses, the coming of age, giving birth, the marriages and divorces, job promotions, retirements....

It’s this Pacifier Tree that stops me dead in my tracks.

I suppose we chose the rite of birth for our own children but did we know then anything about these trees popping up all around the world today?  They’re usually in neighborhoods near schools where the youngest siblings of school children get strolled by their parents.

When exactly the light goes on that the binky in the child’s mouth is like those up in the tree, I don’t know, but one day the wee child “gets” it and decides it’s time to “hang it up.”  Whether encouraged or prodded by others, she’s lifted up on the shoulders of Mommy/Daddy and SHE does it.  SHE gives it up.  I don’t know if she’ll remember it the rest of her life but…it’s as much a rite of passage as any that will follow.

Let’s call it the first rite of passage:  giving up the pacifier.  Do you suppose it'll be a good kick-starter for those other rites/rights to follow?

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