The question is drawn from the Greenhaven Tradition; the YaaD course is not published on the Greenhaven Tradition website, but is made available on a person-to-person basis. Material that is not so closely held is available at http://greenhaventradition.weebly.com/
Class 5, Paper 1 (after reading, before discussion): Think back over your life. What milestones have you already passed? Which of these did you observe with some rite of passage, secular or spiritual? Did these rites feel meaningful or empty to you? Why? Now look forward. What milestones still lie ahead of you? How would you like to mark their passage when you get there? Be prepared to discuss your answers in class.
Assignment submitted November 11, 2011
Writing Assignment: YaaD Class 5 – Rites of Passage
Milestones that have been important to me, personally, in some way, are:
- Starting school – 5 years old
- My paternal grandmother’s death; my first real experience with death – 4 or 5 years old
- Puberty –13 years old
- Graduating from eighth grade – 13 years old
- First job other than babysitting – 15 years old
- Traveling alone (in a group, but without my parents) – 16 years old
- Graduating from high school – 17 years old
- Moving out of my parents’ house – 20 years old
- Having a lover – 23 years old
- Getting married – 28 years old
- My mother’s death – about 37 years old
- My father’s death – about 39 years old
I did not have a bat mitzvah ceremony, because my family was not very observant.
The ceremonies, as it were, leading up to starting school included a short “introduction to kindergarten” program at the school a week before classes started; my mother walking me to the school that day, pointing out which streets were busier and needed more care to cross; and buying new clothes and supplies. It was exciting, and I felt very special and very grown-up, being allowed to walk all the way to school by myself on the first day of school.
I was allowed to attend my grandmother’s memorial service, with instructions to sit quietly and listen, and to hold any questions for later. The only thing I remember clearly was thinking that the officiant hadn’t known Grandma Doris well, although from this remove I couldn’t tell you what specifically irritated me. I vaguely remember ongoing conversations with my parents about the permanence of death, and the fact (belief) that there is no afterlife; once someone dies, that’s it, except for the memories of those left behind.
Puberty was not heralded in any way that I would recommend. I’d had the “what’s going to happen to your body” classes in school, so I knew the technical details about puberty and menstruation. I’d had the birds and the bees conversations with my parents at different times, so I also knew the biological outline of human reproduction, although I had no clue whatsoever about how sex worked. When I started bleeding – on my birthday, no less – the immediate result was a two-hour screaming argument between me and my mother, because I wanted sanitary pads and she insisted that tampons were cleaner and easier to use, and that I had to try them first. On the other hand, I was able to argue successfully that now that I had my period, I was enough of an adult that I should be allowed to shave my legs. It turned out that shaving my legs was not nearly as exciting as I had thought it would be and didn’t make me feel any more adult after the first few times, so I gave up on it.
Graduation, both eighth grade and high school, also led to screaming arguments, because I didn’t want to participate in the graduation ceremonies. I knew that lots of people thought they were important, but I didn’t see any personal value to them – I would get my diploma whether or not I walked across the stage. I was told that my feelings didn’t matter; the ceremony wasn’t for the students’ benefit, it was for the families’. There was a strong implication that I would eventually come to realize that my parents had been right, and that I would have regretted not making the walk. Again, not recommended.
Getting a job – one that required paperwork, not just babysitting for family friends – was an interesting milestone, but not one that was significantly celebrated. I applied, interviewed, did the paperwork, and started working weekends during the spring, and then essentially full-time all summer. As Mr. Spock once said, “You may find that the wanting is more pleasurable than the having.”
I started traveling long distances – not technically alone, since I was with a group, but still without my parents – when I was 16 and in high school, with the volunteer group Amigos de las Americas. There were a variety of ceremonies and rituals connected with that, including but not limited to applying for the program and being admitted; attending training for a year; going in a group to the Health Department for our travel immunizations; receiving our summer assignments; and the big going-away party at my parents’ house. Those events and those trips were very meaningful – I was seen as a near-adult, and I was making a positive difference in people’s lives.
The whole time I was growing up, from as early as I can remember, my parents had told me that I was welcome to live at home, rent-free, as long as I was a full-time student, but that once I graduated I had six months to move out. When I dropped out of college, after what may well have been a mild nervous breakdown, I was immediately expected to start looking for a job, to build up some savings, and to move. I caught a lucky break, in that my Aunt Marilyn and her husband owned rental property, and offered me a lease without requiring first and last months’ rent and a security deposit. My parents did have a moving-out party, and they helped me transport my stuff to my new home (and let me store my books at their house indefinitely). That was a huge milestone; having essentially complete independence to do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, without anyone else keeping track of where I was when. It also led directly to the next milestone, which I doubt I could have achieved while living in my parents’ house.
My first lover [information about my first sexual relationship redacted]. I don’t regret it, any more, but I still kind of wish it had been different and I’d been able to celebrate “hey, sex, this is cool!” I don’t do DADT [don't-ask-don't-tell] relationships of any sort anymore, either.
When Dale and I got married, we very deliberately chose to minimize the amount of ritual: we did not want our respective mothers, both very strong-willed women of different religious backgrounds, getting involved. Therefore, we chose to stand up before a Justice of the Peace with two friends as witnesses, go out for lunch, and send out inexpensive announcements. I’m still glad that’s the choice we made; it felt right for us. As far as we were concerned, the relationship existed in our hearts and minds; the legal ceremony was for the benefit of the government.
My parents’ deaths, although separated by time, were recognized in the same ways: sitting deathwatch and making memorial arrangements. (“This room at the funeral home is nice.” “Um, Dad, it has a giant cross on the wall.”) My family’s tradition is for cremation, an only faintly religious memorial service where anyone who wants to speak may do so, and a gathering afterwards with food and drink brought by friends. I find – probably because one prefers what one grows up with – that this brings a good sense of closure and relief, along with the recognition that family and friends are there to provide support. In my Dad’s case, it also involved all the civil matters – closing out his Social Security, notifying insurance companies and so on, and probating his will.
Milestones that are still to come include:
- Major anniversary
- Finishing the Year and a Day studies
Dale and I are coming up on our 20th legal anniversary (mostly we count from WorldCon 1988, even though we weren’t married until December 1991), and all we’re planning is going out to dinner with some friends. Granted, it will be a very nice dinner, and we’ll pay for the whole thing, but we’re not going to do a splashy “Renewing of Vows” or throw a huge party.
Assuming nothing else goes wrong, I should finish my Year and a Day studies in June 2012. I’ve at least looked at the remaining materials, and I don’t see anything that looks like giving me metaphysical hives, except maybe the last class on specialization, since I can’t imagine, at this point, what I might be able to specialize in. My understanding is that there is no formal ceremony to mark completion of the coursework, unless I apply for Inner Circle membership, and unless that application is approved pending successful completion of whatever ritual is designed to test me. If that is the case, then something will happen, but I assume I won’t know what until the day.
I’m looking forward to finishing menopause. I’ve been peri-menopausal for going on 10 years now, which in my case means I’m bleeding once or twice a year – just often enough to be annoying. While I was never a part of the Usenet group alt.support.menopause, I do like, and plan to implement, their ritual of getting my nails painted gold once I’ve gone a full year without a period. That will be fun. I may also do a ceremonial burning of my remaining tampons, sans plastic wrappers (I did eventually come around to preferring tampons), but more likely I’ll give them away.
Retirement (barring, ghods forbid, medical retirement or disability) is at least 13 years away. At this point, I think I’d prefer a small party with my immediate coworkers, rather than a huge division-wide Thing with people I only see once or twice a year. I suppose that could change, though.
Once I die, any remaining observances are for the living, not for me. For the record, though, I find the Southern custom of open-casket viewings and funerals seriously creepy, and I have promised Dale that if I predecease him and he does that, I will haunt his ass – and not in a good way.
One milestone I did not include, because I can’t promise it, would be forming a Greenhaven Tradition coven in East Tennessee. If that were to happen, I would expect to ask for some kind of formal recognition from Fieldhaven, and I’d have to figure out how to handle the conflict among “must remain separate for one year”, “want to be at Fieldhaven for Samhain”, and “Samhain is an important holiday which should be celebrated with one’s home coven”.