It is the season of celebration. The season during which refrigerators are covered in invitations. The season for parties and gifts and congratulations. The season for the rites and rituals that hold a society together. Graduations, weddings, Mother’s and Father’s days. It is the season for acknowledging the cycles and circles of life.
A couple of weeks ago, this boy I know graduated from high school. He put on the silly outfit that no 18-year-old in his right mind would put on for any reason other than to make his mama happy. He smiled for the photos and said thank you to every single expression of congratulations. And, at the party to which his parents invited more than just a few people, he gave a speech.
I was at that party. Just as I had been at the hospital the night he was born. A lot happened in the 18 years between. He and I, along with his mother and sister, burned thousands of miles on I-95 between Baltimore and South Georgia. We rode bicycles, boats and pirate ships. We walked streets in big cities and small towns and hiked nature trails in multiple states. And we told stories, lots of stories. Most of them true.
As I listened to his speech, I remembered the Orioles game at Camden Yards, the outdoor movie in Little Italy and the National Aquarium where the little lights on his tennis shoes twinkled like stars as he ran up and down the ramps. I remembered trampoline hockey and dance parties in his Nana’s living room. I remembered looking for seashells on St. Simons Island and deer tracks in my backyard. Mostly I remembered the stories, the quiet moments when it was just the two of us sharing words.
But about that speech ... What the boy said was that in the lead-up to graduation all of it had seemed to be a whole bunch of unnecessary hoopla, that he wasn’t really sure why he needed to attend the ceremony, why there needed to be a party. His eyes, he told us, were already on college and graduating from high school didn’t seem to be too big a deal.
Until he looked at all the people at the party. All the people who had made the effort to come share the moment with him. All the people who were more than party guests. All the people who had helped him become who he is (and who will, I might add, continue to do so). It was then, he said, that he realized the why behind the silly outfit and all the photos and the big party.
What I think he was trying to say is that none of us accomplishes anything on our own, that it is in community that we find the strength, the motivation, the tenacity to follow through on the promises we make to ourselves and to others. In the rituals we perform, we give heft to that reality.
The boy is a surfer and his parents had framed a large photo of him standing on the beach and looking into the sun, surfboard tucked under his arm. They asked each of us at the party to sign the photo. Looking at those signatures — family, friends, friends who are family — I was reminded of all the things to which one puts a signature, the symbol of identity and loyalty: diplomas, marriage and birth certificates, guest books. And, now, photos of young surfers.
In the aftermath of a pandemic that stole so many moments of celebration and community, it might make sense to bypass the parties, send regrets to all the weddings, forego the silly outfits. It could be tempting, would be easy to make no day special, create no occasion out of anything. But it would mean ignoring the truth of what brought us through those long hard months with our humanity intact — the anticipation of being together again.
It is the season of celebration. Let us celebrate.