I drove my youngest brother and his new wife from my parents’ home to the airport this morning, bound for medical school, out-of-country. It was a nice scene, sentimental in a heartfelt way. Hugs all around, my mom crying, and my brother, too. When I got home, my mom said he reminded her of Bilbo Baggins, all cozy and comfortable in his home, dragged away to confront a dragon. That feels right. Or destroy a Death Star.

On the way back, it hit me that we lacked a ritual for sending him off. I suppose what our culture has to offer is the going-away party. We didn’t do that. We had a few nights, informally talking about hopes and fears in our parents’ living room, which was good, but it would have been good for all of us to have more of a ritual. My own leaving home twenty-some years ago was even less acknowledged–my best friend and I packed all of our possessions into the back of my truck and moved hundreds of miles away early in the morning, before anyone was awake to say goodbye. They knew we were going, of course, but no sendoff. My brother may have preferred it low key, of course; we also dropped their marriage license off at the county building on the way out of town with no other ritual attached to that major event.

In these moments I wish that our culture was more prescriptive. You have a going away party when you go away. It doesn’t matter if you don’t want it, because it’s not just about you. It’s about the family and the community who are losing you. Cultural prescriptions have their downsides, of course, but in our freedom- and individual-oriented culture we lose sight of the benefits: emotionally satisfying communal markers of major life events, phase transitions facilitated and eased, powerful rituals of induction into new freedoms and responsibilities, the strengthening of “us” as a family and community and culture. Real family and cultures don’t just exist. They are subject to entropy. We continually remake them with each acknowledgement, with each bond strengthened.

To my dear brother, Ben: Welcome to your new adventure. I could tell how deeply you feel the sacrifice of leaving and I know we feel the sacrifice of losing you. What you are going to do for the next bunch of years will be a sacrifice, too. But it will also be an adventure, and we will all benefit from what you do out there. Take care of yourself and come home when you can.
Love,
Nathen

bnr-psp-2

 

 

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