Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

Cape Cod


1 Travel. Kudos to American Air. Seamless trip in and out of New York’s Laguardia Airport. Both CLE and LGA were packed. AA was super.

2 Fee. As in landing fee. As in did you know that Cleveland Hopkins airport has some of the highest landing fees in the country? Takes a ton of the mystery out of why airlines keep bailing on servicing Cleveland.

And makes the 30 minutes we spent idling on the tarmac waiting for a ground crew to park us after landing inexplicable and utterly unacceptable.

3 Friendship. My closest friend from college lives about 20 minutes (without accidents on the roads) from my brother and his family. We hadn’t seen each other in a few years so we dropped in for lunch and a tour of his new digs. Downsizing is a wholly different gig in the Northeast!

Anyway, the point here is the incalculable benefits of meeting in person. Nothing can substitute for that first hug after so long apart. Same for walking in to my brother’s house. All of our fancy ways to connect pale in comparison.

There’s no emoji that can compete with a real, live, in person hug.

4 Conflict. As I was landing a little while ago I was flashing across all of my long-distance connections when I came across something that annoyed me. Doesn’t really matter what it was, to be honest. It just rubbed me the wrong way. That is came from people who I typically like almost unconditionally added a tinge of disappointment.

So what did I do?

Well, after confirming the accuracy of the whatever, I simply moved on. Let it pass. For whatever reason, reason bubbled to the surface. Rather than push back, a rather reasonable thing under any circumstances but almost reflexive upon completing a flight, however well the airline performed (granted, “well” has a pretty low bar when it comes to airlines nowadays), I just walked on by.

Why? Not all things that bother, or all things with which you disagree, rise to the level of conflict. The teachable moment presented to me was just that: take a moment. Take a moment to first determine who owns whatever problem there is. If it’s you, like my little thing today, will you solve the problem by engaging and therefore expanding the conflict? If you engage is it possible to exit the encounter victorious? Or if not victorious, at least not seriously damaged? In the little moment that followed my tiny moment of pique it was crystal clear that creating conflict where none is presumed on whatever the other side might be would end poorly.

Sometimes you get to choose whether it’s a conflict at all.

5 It’s the end of November. In the United States we are just finishing the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, the purest of our national holidays in all respects. We are entering what is euphemistically known as the “Holiday Season”, a time once used to commemorate the intersection of family and faith, now bastardized into a commercial orgasmic frenzy. It’s a bit different this year, to be sure. We’ve been shopping from home for everything from cocktails to capers for almost 2 years. I didn’t see anything remotely reminiscent of “Black Friday” in today’s papers.

Hidden in this season somewhere, alive against all odds, lie the rituals that bind us together, bind us to some version of our past. Rituals are different from habits. Habits are trainable, repeatable, common activities we engage in consistently in the hopes of some equally consistent, common outcome. They are largely personal and exist in a tiny personal domain. Rituals, on the other hand, are a shared endeavor, and choice is not always a part of the program.

Once it’s a ritual you’ve been committed.

We call these rituals by many names; in the extended White family they are traditions. We are a family that craves such things. Do it once it’s a precedent. Do it next year and it’s a tradition. Do it yet again and however it went, it is now inviolate ritual. Is this good? This year, an “off” year for our little family (kids all had their “primary” Thanksgiving feast with their in-laws), Beth and I accepted an invitation to spend the weekend with my Mom surrounded by my brother, one of my sisters, and their families. Our Thanksgiving rituals were transported largely intact some 150 miles (and 15 years) to Connecticut. As Beth and I landed and switched our phones off “Airplane mode” we already had an invitation to Thanksgiving dinner on the next “off year” 2 years hence!

Some rituals are gentle, almost whimsical. They tickle us and we smile little smiles as they come and go. Others are grand, some so outsized that “grandiose” is the only apt descriptor. There is weight to these, demands that must be met, plans that must be made. Some of this weight is real, usually born of history that stretches generations into the past. Some are even pleasant.

The power of ritual to teach and to bind is part of why they persist. The power of a ritual to resist a changing world, whether macro or micro, speaks to the inherent and personal resonance of that ritual. The more internal the effect, the greater the power.

The longer lived the ritual, the more resistant it is to a changing world. Even the tiniest bit of evolution, however appropriate, can feel like violating a kind of trust.

Church. The family meal. Travel. Gifting. All of the trappings that surround each. Why do we do what we do, especially at this time of year? Do our rituals remind us of a history that is warm, a legacy that bears propagating? Do they teach a next generation in a way that leads us to look forward with eager anticipation? Even painful rituals such as Yom Kippur end with optimism.

Do they rather simply reinforce some something that should have faded away, been allowed to die? Something that stands in the way of a better today or tomorrow, yesterday as the anchor that drags against full sails and a bright horizon? These we should have the courage to leave behind.’

Tis the season in which most of us face the longest-lived, most deeply entrenched rituals in our lives. Most of them are likely that way because they bind us to a warm past, teach us, re-fuel and inspire us. Whether writ large or small, these are what we should return to, wherever they may be, as we face the bombardment of a world a’changing.

I hope your Thanksgiving rituals left you with hearts filled to bursting, re-fueled and inspired, ready for whatever comes your way, our way, borne aloft toward a better tomorrow by the rituals of our pasts.

I’ll see you next week…

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