You look smashing in mourning, dear
I ran into a friend at the supermarket this morning and she looked absolutely exquisite in black pleated skirt, finely-tailored jacket and a tiny pillbox hat, all quite out of keeping for a suburban market on a Thursday morning. Obviously she was attending some kind of function, since she was waiting to check out a fancy deli cheese tray.
"You look great," I said. "What's the occasion?" It was that last statement I guess I should have refrained from cheerfully uttering.
"My mother-in-law just passed away," she said. "We're on the way to the service and reception."
If I had looked closer before I had spoken, I would have noticed that her eyes were rimmed with tears. Anyway, as I said, it was an inadvertent gaffe for which no offence whatsoever was taken.
But, afterwards I thought, regardless of the solemnity of the occasion, how wonderful it was to see somebody not only dressed appropriately out of love for a passed family member, but also to see a contemporary know 'how' to correctly dress in mourning. I was put in mind of that famous photo taken at the funeral of King George VI back in 1952 (see above) in which three queens, Mary, Queen Mother Elizabeth, and Elizabeth II are in mourning for a son, a prematurely deceased husband, and a beloved father. The greatest grief, in some respects is shown in the face of Queen Mary; the grief of a parent who has outlived a child.
My point here is not to be somber, but to note that I met this morning with somebody who, in a society that has lost connection at so many levels, somebody still respects both the traditions and rituals of our society. Traditions that have been lost, or rendered vulgar and cheap or, worst of all, rendered politically incorrect and therefore must not be observed for the sake of 'offending' some bloody minority or other.
The irony in that is, our minorities are thoroughly encouraged to practice their rituals, their declarations of faith, and to wear the trappings of their cultures, and we dare not criticize them for adhering to the glue that holds them together, for fear of been deemed bigots or racists.
But, conventional wisdom declares that no manifestations of the cultural heritage of what was once a Christian society can be seen as acceptable, and we must do away with Christmas concerts for the sake of some 'Midwinter Festival' bullshit, or something equally lame and meaningless. Yet, newspapers and television will regularly offer bits and bytes about the religious and cultural festivals of other faiths. Nothing wrong with the rites of those faiths, and in multicultural schools they should be observed. But, how about a bit of equal time here, folks?
A couple of years ago a junior high opened not far from here. At the official opening ceremonies one of the 'entertainments' was dancing by members of the Native Indian band of the region. Great stuff, very colorful and a delight to watch. The new school was then 'blessed' by a native shaman. Nothing wrong with that either -- except -- it would have been utterly unacceptable for a priest or pastor to come and offer a Christian blessing on the structure.
My point is this: ritual and tradition is not all that meaningful in itself, but it has (or had) huge meaning as a glue holding a society and a people together. If our children are not exposed to their traditions, what is to happen to cohesiveness? Other cultures in the world live or die according to their beliefs, but our children aren't, in so many cases, even aware of what beliefs we once had. Schools don't, or cannot, teach them. Church or Sunday school has an ever diminishing impact on western society, and somehow 'Gameboys', cellular phones, hip-hop and repulsive and vulgar TV reality shows are not filling in those cultural gaps.
Consequently, it was a relief, as inconsequential as it might seem to many, to have met with somebody who actually understood the meaning of 'funereal' and chose to dress appropriately -- rather than in sweatshirt and jeans, or T-shirt and shorts, garments of which type I have actually seen at funerals -- and weddings. God help us.