This past month I had the opportunity to join the virtual graduation of the Hawaii Dept. of Education’s Teacher Leadership Academy. I said a few words of what I hope was inspiration and stayed to express my appreciation and congratulations in the Chat. The cohort members all wore leis and were feted by the leadership in their district and by their peers. It was really a lovely event.
In the past I haven’t been ‘big’ on communal celebrations. When I turned 16, I asked my parents to take me to brunch, just the three of us. When I was 21, I was in Florence on my junior year abroad and I think someone threw up on me at a small house party given in my honor. Over the winter holiday season I leave the country and go on retreat. Celebrations for me can be done in smaller ways and those private rituals bring me peace.
But, that doesn’t mean there isn’t value in a Celebration with a capital C. Retirements, goodbyes, movings on, graduations, weddings, however you name the event or the transition, is a moment to witness, to acknowledge, to celebrate. Celebration might be too festive of a word – implying joy and elation – and in many moments of transition, it isn’t all fun and games. People are wounded or burnt out, exhausted, or quite melancholy. I understand that grief often comes hand in hand in hand with happiness. Sadness walks with contentment. And yet, with all those mixed up feelings that can be present in a time of transition, we still should honor the experience.
Some might say this time in particular isn’t the appropriate time for a celebration. The invasion of Ukraine continues, inflation is high, many are still quarantined, and there is a specter of infection from a pandemic so having an event with a large gathering of individuals can cause anxiety. I say I agree. And acknowledge it all. We are at living through a multiple choice, E, all of the above, moment. Be present to all of it. And, be humane and do what is the next best action. Choose to celebrate and bear witness when the moments come. Cheer, honor, acknowledge, be there.
In 2017 I posted on Facebook one of my favorite recollections. I wrote, “On a SW flight. In row 20 it is Ariel’s 5th birthday. We ALL shut our window shades, turned off our reading lights, and turned on our flight attendant call buttons to simulate candles. Then we sang Ariel happy birthday. As Ariel ‘blew out’ her candles we all turned out our flight attendant call lights to make it dark again. If 172 random folks can get it together for 2 minutes for a kid named Ariel, what might we do as teams and schools and organizations for one another, not to mention for humanity?”
If 172 random individuals can show up for a stranger in this way, we can show up to celebrate and acknowledge those we do know and care about, especially at an ‘all the above’ moment such as the one we are living in right now.
My nephew, Joe, when he was much younger, used to be distant the day or two before I left Minnesota to come back to California. I asked him once why he didn’t want to hug me as much. He replied, “We’re getting close to the leaving time.” Wow. Out of the mouths of babes an acknowledgement of the pain that leaving can cause. However tired we are, however sad we are, we can make a different choice if we want – we can stretch at our edges and be the grown-ups.
While I am a “not so big on the big events” person, I am reminding myself (and you) to:
- Show up to the fete. Toast. Clap. Say a few words.
- Put in for the gift. Sign the card. Better yet, write something kind in the card too.
- Join in the group photo. Smile. Put your arm around the person next to you. Hug goodbye.
See you there.
If you have any questions, comments or topic suggestions, please feel free to email me at email@example.com. I look forward to hearing from you.
Jennifer Abrams, "Celebrate Even If ... ", as originally published on Jennifer Abrams Developing Individuals Transforming Schools, 05-02-2022,https://jenniferabrams.com/celebrate-even-if