Friday, November 19, 2010

The Value of False Rituals

TheWife loves rituals. She finds great meaning in them, even if they are new rituals that she or we are inventing for our family as we go. I, on the other hand, have never been one for rituals. They've always seemed like inauthentic actions performed not because one was intrinsically moved to act, but awkwardly constructed sets behaviors bound by expectation and, like a joke you've heard before, missing their ability to inspire. I understand that at certain times, say at the time of marriage or immediately following the death of a loved one, rituals can be extremely helpful in bringing together community, making sure that necessary details are attended to, and helping people process life altering changes that are being experienced. But not all rituals deal with big events that change the way you are in the world.

Last night the shorter of the short people lost a tooth. He is at the age where he no longer believes in the tooth fairy, yet I know he would be extremely upset should he not awaken this morning to find something under his pillow. It's not the money. If I handed him the money before bed, it would not be the same. No, it has to be done in this particular way. He knows who puts the money there because he inevitably comes in to our room the next morning and asks for his tooth back -- he's a sentimental who finds parting with part of himself difficult, even if a new and improved "adult" component is on its way in and he is certainly not willing to give back the newly acquired funds for the old tooth which always seems to him so unbelievably small for all the pain it caused on its way out.

So, the question is what accounts for the attachment to ritual here? Is it something about the meaningfulness of ritualized action itself or is it more likely specific to this case, that it is a Christmas morning-like scenario of awakening to something pleasant, and therefore says nothing about ritual in general? If he knows it is going to happen, where does the meaningfulness come from? What, in the end, accounts for the power that many experience from ritual?