This past weekend, I couldn’t help but think of Doug Ota’s closing keynote address at the Families in Global Transition (FIGT) conference. “We live in a society bereft of ritual,” he said. “We live in a day and age where we have deconstructed and dismantled many of the social conventions our forefathers spent centuries building.”
As a TCK, I’ve missed out on many of my family’s and friends’ rituals—I missed my younger brother’s high school graduation because I was studying abroad in Italy, I missed a friend’s wedding because I was home in Taiwan spending Christmas in my family, the list goes on. Most TCKs have a list of the rituals they missed.
When we miss rituals, it’s easy for us to begin to devalue rituals because we can’t take part in them. If we tell ourselves they aren’t important, then us missing them as globally mobile people doesn’t seem to be such a big deal.
This weekend I was reminded how important rituals are and what a privilege it is to be a part of them.
Thirteen years ago I met Anna, one of my closest friends. We both laugh as we recount the story of how our friendship began. We attended the same missionary school in Taiwan, but being a year apart in school (me in sixth grade and she in fifth), we wanted to be friends but were too shy to talk to each other. Our brothers in the same class were buddies, and it wasn’t until the two of them were being chaperoned one day by my mother that Anna and I started actually talking.
After that, we were inseparable. We’d beg our teachers to let us do anything together even though we were in separate classes, sometimes to the point of bribery. When I moved off to boarding school, we had grand plans for her to be my roommate when she arrived the next year.
In true TCK fashion, though, her family moved back to the states the year she was supposed to join me. That was about nine years ago.
On Saturday I celebrated her wedding with her. Maybe thirteen years doesn’t seem like a long time to make a friendship last for people who have grown up in the same state their whole lives, but when your friendship is separated first by the Pacific Ocean and then later by half a country, it’s a milestone marker to be able to stand with your friend on her wedding day. We spent a good portion of the day looking at each other and asking if she was old enough to get married. In our minds, we’re still in middle school and creating the yearbook.
As we celebrated the ritual of marriage and the joy of a wedding, I was reminded how much rituals signify something larger than just an event. They are a part of building a community and marking life. They remind you that you are part of something bigger and intangible.