Rites, Ceremonies, & Customs
While sitting at one of 20 round tables in a hotel banquet room over the weekend, I realized I was the only round-eye in room of 200 Asians celebrating the engagement of my niece (my brother-in-law’s daughter).
One thought led to many others: how comfortable I am with cultural rites, celebrations and customs that are mine only by association…the only gentile at a Seder; the only Caucasian at a black church; the only male in a girl’s locker-room (more comfortable, in fact, than in the Wizards’ locker-room where I was at eyelevel with “you know what” of naked 7 foot basketball players…I am 5’ 9”); the only septuagenarian at an elementary school surrounded by inquisitive 9 year olds; living with Karen guerillas in the Golden Triangle in the ‘60s.
33 years ago this week, I rescued my brother-in-law and eleven other of his family members during the fall of Saigon. (Online here) As I looked around at the engagement party, I realized that I was directly responsible for the presence of at least 25 family members directly associated with the original 12 family members fleeing Vietnam. In a real sense the presence of the other 150 or so celebrants were also connected to that rescue many years ago.
It made me weak at the knees.
It has turned out that the rescue was mutual. My life, in a real way, was saved by the exposure to my wife’s family members. I am an only child raised in poverty in rural Illinois but I was never exposed in any meaningful way to the importance of family, especially uncles, aunts and cousins. The exposure to an extended family, in many ways, is more fruitful than parental input.
On some level I knew this but it was confirmed a couple of years ago when I edited a documentary, “The Gefilte Fish Chronicles.” (http://www.gefiltefishchronicles.com/). During the weeks of editing, it became evident to me the importance of growing up with your relatives, not just your parents.
As more and more family members revealed themselves to me via video tape it became apparent that although my own family didn’t come out of Egypt, we are part of the human Diaspora and I will always be grateful to the gods of my life, whose ever they are.
And, appropriately enough, Passover week, the engagement party and the 33rd anniversary of my family’s rescue have converged to present me with the affirmation that, from time to time, life works as it’s supposed to.
Or in other words, the meaning of Pesach: sacrifice, freedom and acceptance of our families.
I’m just sayin'…Dick