Second Rite of Passage: place, space, and grace

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The variety of abilities in a group of women can be astonishing. Gather up a group yourself and ask the question, what ten things can you teach me, from juggling to car repair and everything in between? Trust me, astonished, you will be.

Speaking of which . . . our next offering was from the teacher in our little group. We gathered once again around the fireplace. She offered up a quick writing exercise to warm us all up and then we began.

“I like to do this with my high school students. It gives us a way to understand where we come from. If everyone can do a first draft and then rewrite it to keep or to give it to Ginny  . . .”

A pause. We think. We write. We tell our stories. We are given a prompt that includes asking for a detail about where we come from, something that matters to us, and who we are. This is what we came up with:

“I am from every country in Europe through scratch farms in Oklahoma, one women general stores in Montana to California for the promised dream.”

“I am from pepper trees, flaming bouganvilla, and eucalyptus that peels off in three different colors.”

“I am from wallpapered halls, big wheels, basements with pipes you can swing from, and long days at the Little League field.”

“From a carousel of seasons, absorbed one minute in hot, sticky thunderstorms and the next in the frigid arms of sleet- the cruel child of a marriage between  snow and ice.” . . .

“I know that crystal clear nights matter as do the warm summer evenings . . . “

“I know that I am under the trees, performing rituals for the birds and playing a flute in a long white swing, hearing a voice in the wind.”

I think we done good. Don’t you?

What would you write?

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First rite of passage: music! music! music!

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Maril reading the lyrics to an important song from her teen years.

I first came up with the idea when I thought back to those days in junior high school, and asked myself, “what was I listening to back then?” And then the follow up question, “what do I wish I would have heard back then?”

After pondering those two questions and reliving the experiences related to the answers, I realized that collecting important music in people’s lives helps share the hopes and struggles of a moment in time. I wanted the exploring of music as personal time capsule to be a learning place for Ginny on others’ timelines. This desire eventually became a solid piece in the puzzle of creating a memorable rite of passage for my daughter.

Most of us, I believe, have connected with music at particular times in our lives, and some of  us, at almost every moment of our lives. Maybe it was the lyrics: “day after day it reappears, night after night, my heartbeat shows the fear, ghosts appear and fade away . . . (Overkill by Men At Work)” or it could have been the overall message: “love is like oxygen, you get too much, you get too high, not enough and you’re going to die . . . . (Love is Like Oxygen by Sweet).” Regardless, music often had an impact and became a touchstone for a certain transition in our lives, good or bad.

So I invited the women of this first rite of passage to dig into their memories, and pull out songs that had an impact on their lives during their 14th year, or thereabouts. When the songs of both tragedy and triumph were busted out at the event (yes, even “I Have Confidence” from The Sound of Music), there was much laughter, and a few tears, as well as some robust singing along as one of the women d.j.ed the compilation c.d (later given out to guests), as it played out parts of our earlier selves.

We still play that collection six years later, sometimes dancing without reserve and singing with complete abandon into our plastic soup ladles.

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Ginny, listening to the women with glee and wonder.

First rite of passage: creating spaces

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paper and lace doily luminarias in “the room of celebration”

We were living in a beige neighborhood with stucco walls and neutral carpet (the accepted uniform for houses in the area). We weren’t raking in the bucks at our current jobs, so reserving an ultra rarified space with wooden floors and haloed light was not an option for this rite of passage. In fact, renting a space didn’t even rent any space in my mind at the time. As the granddaughter of Angelina Castellino Mammano, Sicilian immigrant and crafter of household wall art from broken bottles and dress-making scraps, I knew that making do was the right thing to do.

I had already formed a plan for theming each room for the event. I wanted a room of stories for sharing adolescent gems from the diaries of memory, a room of wisdom to gift Ginny with symbols of growth into womanhood, a room of blessing to pour words of hope and affirmation over my daughter’s body and soul, and a “room” of celebration to party till the twinkly lights shined no more!

Combining “making do” with these themed elements was my challenge. How could I make a room of stories a warm and safe place to mine the treasures of the historied heart? How would I make a room of wisdom that honors my daughter’s own sensibilities of beauty and taste? Could a room of blessing become a holy space without wooden floors, sacred echoes, and sanctified ceilings? What space could best hold a feast and a riotously celebratory dance party all at the same time?

Well, with a call out to a couple of women included in the special day for suggestions and ideas, as well as a gathering, yes, an actual gathering of materials in my living room of things I had on hand (quilts, fancy fabrics, folk art carvings, photographs, mis-matched tea cups!), I created simple, but beautiful spaces that held what I had hoped my home would house most on that important day: a homespun montage of warmth and meaning.

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My daughter relishes the “room of wisdom”

First rite of passage: the language of symbols

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Japanese “Girl Day” doll balancing the buckets of life.

I found her on Ebay and she was absolutely beautiful. A Japanese “Girl’s Day” doll, bearing the face of a sweet child while hefting two watery buckets. She looked like a silken interpretation of the scales of justice. The doll was managing both youth and adulthood as well as balancing both beauty and hard work, all on her kimono-graced shoulders.

That’s her. I thought. That doll is my daughter at 14. Young. Determined. And yet, trying to figure out her life still blushing with the pink hues of childhood. I knew that when choosing this special gift, it painted a picture, created a symbol, of where she might be right now in her life. I also kept in mind when looking for that special something, her great admiration for all things Japanese. I knew this would be a winner.

On the day of the rite of passage event, along with the girl doll, there were also other symbols that gestured toward my daughter’s own uniqueness and the theme of “coming of age”: a collection of beads to string together “the stars and moons” of her life, a candle moving from room to room to gently reminding us all of the ongoing presence of light in our lives, and a swath of diaphanous fabrics draping around shelves and furniture, subtley nudging us toward thoughts of mystery.

A well-given, or well-placed symbol is a thing of beauty. It does not demand explanation, but when given, it brings rich layers of meaning into its form, shape, presence. The small acts of placing thoughtful gifts of your own awareness into the path of others, are offerings that are deep and lasting.

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Beads to string the “moon and stars” of your life.