Traditions often don’t begin on purpose. That is, more often than not, instead of a carefully planned decision, something happens in our lives that is a spontaneous happy or significant event, and thinking back about it, we decide we’d like to do that same or similar thing again. Often, it’s not so regular that it loses its meaning – usually, it’s a specially planned thing that brings meaning to our lives. For instance, what do you have for Thanksgiving meal? Most likely it’s the same menu that you’ve had all your life, and perhaps what your parents and even grandparents had. Imagine the uproar if you were to announce to your family that, instead of turkey and all the trimmings, you were just going to order pizza for Thanksgiving this year. It had better be a turkey pizza, at least.
Traditions most easily surround holidays, but they also mark the passing of time, and allow us to sit in that moment and say, “Remember when…” I’ve always considered the simplest traditions to be the best, without a huge hullabaloo, or massive undertaking. Actually, when that starts to happen, the tradition moves from sweet and special, to overburdened. I remember when I used to help couples get ready for their wedding day, that I would always caution that although the “fluff” surrounding the wedding – like special roses, or flower girls and ring bearers who can barely walk get handed over a significant part of a wedding – the fluff certainly was fun and could be enjoyable, but that the fluff, taken to excess, will start to smother, and turn the moment from something to remember to something to get through. Tradition gone bad, like a tomato sitting too long on the counter.
A few years ago, when we moved into our home, that summer, as it happened for years, Cheri’s sister came to spend the season with their folks at the farm. And so it happened that she would fly in and out of Fargo, instead of Grand Forks, and so it meant that she needed to come down to Fargo and spend the night, with Cheri’s other sister, who then would take her to the airport the next morning. Stick with me – it’ll all make sense.
On a whim, Cheri offered to have all three of them spend the evening at our place – more specifically, to hang out in the gazebo, letting the nice breezes blow through, and ordering some meal from some restaurant, and somehow, having me serve as the butler, bringing them appetizers and such. That first year, they had a marvelous time, and talked about it throughout the year, how the “sisters’ gazebo evening” was such fun.
Of course you know what happened. In the blink of an eye, it went from a fun experience, to the beginning of a tradition. The next year, as Cheri’s sister got ready to fly out, of course, everyone remembered the fun of the gazebo, and so it got planned again. And again. And again.
This year, however, things of course changed. With the death of Cheri’s mom, the plan to have “the girls” have the gazebo changed dates a bit, and instead of her sister’s last evening, it got moved somehow to the evening before the Labor Day Weekend – tonight – after which, Cheri’s two sisters would head out to their lake cabin for the long weekend.
So far, so good. Recall, however, that Grafton is two hours away from Fargo. Cheri’s sister is a bit nervous about driving all the way to our place, especially with a car that is not always dependable. The question then arose as to how “they” were going to get her down here, and as importantly, get her back up to Grafton on Monday night. Negotiations were carried on, unfortunately without Cheri involved, until a plan was hatched that Cheri’s brother would bring the sister down, and then an expectation arose that Cheri (read the two of us) would then have to take her back up to Grafton on Monday. The details aren’t worth going over too much, but Cheri also was not amenable to spending her Labor Day, one of few actual holidays she gets in her work, driving the trek. Of course, the other sister “couldn’t” take the sister back, since they were also entertaining at the lake.
Things got kind of messy. Cheri then volunteered to go up today and get the sister, and then it would be up to someone else to take her back.
No – the brother was going to bring her down. Trouble is, Cheri’s brother has never been on time for anything – and often is more than a couple of hours late, since he has things to do before they could leave. That meant it was going to be pretty iffy if they would be down to Fargo by 5pm, since that was the plan. Why 5pm? Good question – apparently Cheri’s other sister made arrangements to do some kind of craft things with her daughter and boyfriend, and so she could only stay for a little while…
See what I mean when traditions get upended, or thwarted, or just have layers of complication poured on top? Suddenly, a simple evening in the gazebo, with good food and relaxation has become pinched in between all sorts of time constraints, as well as a bit of frustration instead of anticipation. I’m kind of afraid that with the other things impending, that their time together will be short, and managed, and not near as fun as it usually is. Cheri suggested that perhaps another weekend might be better, but no – a decision was made, and no matter the mess it creates, it’s going to happen, and they will have fun, dagnabit!
My deeper concern is that with all this going on, “gazebo night” may indeed have run its course. A tradition is normally something you look forward to, and carve out both time and attention – it becomes something placed at the top, or near the top of one’s list of things to do, instead of getting shoehorned in between other tasks or responsibilities. A sad development happens when, in the course of keeping a tradition, even a fairly new one, you allow it to become only one of many things to do in the same period of time. Something that takes some effort and space cannot exist very well when neither is available.
So we will see what the day brings. Perhaps the tradition will overcome the complicatedness, but I have my doubts.
What’s important to you in your life? What things do you look forward to, anticipate, or are eager to have happen? I would just always recommend that, if something is important, then keep it important. Manage your life to make room for whatever it is that brings you joy. In other words, be intentional in your plans for the future, even short-term, even if it’s a little thing. Of course, you don’t have to make everything a holy mission, and if it is better to postpone something, so there will be time to care for it properly later, then that’s far better than cramming it into an already packed schedule, and reducing it to fluff itself. Our life is more important than that, and when we give that up, what we are left with is a uncertain longing for the good old days, when things mattered. Cherish what is worth cherishing, and allow a tradition, if it means anything to your life, to stand and be cared for. You won’t regret it, believe me…
Thought for the day: You have to remember one life, one death – this one! To enter fully the day, the hour, the moment whether it appears as life or death … requires only a moment, this moment. Stephen Levine
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.