Well, that was a surprise: Part 3, the ritual
Weddings, funerals, road trips and an unforgettable cup of coffee in the Costa Rican jungle.
Editor’s note: This is the third post in a series about surprises. Here are the lines for part one and part two.
I’m writing this week’s dispatch from Marfa, where my dear friend Dani and I are having a girlfriend getaway.
We’re going on sunset walks and shopping for last minute groceries at the market and making meals in a strange kitchen and all the other rituals of a road trip.
Coming off the heels of a wedding and an engagement, I was originally going to publish a column about rituals last week.
But then the Uvalde shooting happened and, like many of you, I entered a state of grief.
I thought about writing about the rituals of this kind of trauma and grieving. Talking about it in hushed tones so the kids don’t hear. Posting whatever compelling sentiment we can conjure on our social media channels and in conversations with friends.
But because there are happy things going on, even as we all learn how to deal with this anger, this disgust, this impulse to do something, I wanted to write about rituals more broadly. The once-in-a-lifetime ones. The boring ones. The ones we create for ourselves to mark meaningful moments that matter more to us than anyone else.
Last month, my kids and I went to Costa Rica with my mom and sister for my cousin’s wedding. I’d only been to one destination wedding before — to Marfa, coincidentally — and this experience was a full-scale reminder of what happens when two people bring their loved ones together for what is essentially summer camp.
My kids had never stayed at a resort. They’d never been asked to be ring bearers. They avoid wearing button-up shirts at all costs.
But they know ritual. Mine is the family that will drive many hundreds of miles to share meals with people we love. We are the family that always goes to the funeral. Of course we’d travel to the tip of the continent to immerse ourselves in the many rituals that make up a wedding.
We heard speeches at the rehearsal dinner. We stood for the bride, dressed in white. We watched the lovebirds serve each other cake afterward.
A wedding ceremony is, arguably, the most significant ritual a person hosts in their lifetime. I know my cousin and his new wife sat down and decided what kind of ritual they wanted at their nuptials and intentionally create a space where friends could deepen their relationships through adventures like zip-lining and a beachside campfire.
I was surprised at how much I enjoyed all these activities and getting to know Chris and Haylie’s inner circle, but nothing surprised me more than on the last night, during the lunar eclipse, we all stood on the beach watching the moon.
We’d seen bioluminescence on the ocean from the outdoor restaurant area after dinner, which sparked a mad rush of twentysomethings to the shoreline. With each neon green wave crashing onto itself, these young professionals — all of them in technology startups or accounting or software development — whooped and hollered, a full exclamation of awe and excitement that you rarely hear in polite society.
I thought about all the many people who have had their own reaction to this natural phenomenon. Who had turned their eyes to see the moon disappearing and knew, deep within them, that this meant it was time to slow down and soak up what is happening.
That was a ritual that we couldn’t have planned.
I had several wonderful smaller moments of ritual. My mom and I took a side trip to see the cemetery island off the coast of Cabo Blanco on the tip of the Nicoya Peninsula and stopped for coffee at a little hand-built outdoor cafe that’s operated by this Italian man. He’d been teaching surfing over at Santa Teresa beach before burning out. The allure of making chocolate and coffee drew him to this little corner of a village called Cabuya.
I didn’t need another cup of coffee, but I wanted to sit and have a coffee ritual — one of the most basic rituals I have in my life — but in this beautiful new-to-me place.
Because what is a ritual if not, simply, an intention put into action.
The ritual of eating dinner together as a family or going on a road trip with your best friend are reflections of the intention of having and maintaining healthy relationships.
The ritual of reading the newspaper every morning says something about your intention to be a well-read member of your community.
The ritual of taking a bath after a long day reflects the intention of taking good care of yourself.
The ritual of hosting a wedding with lots of friends and family present is a reflection of the intention to form a village of support between the two people whose lives are intertwining in a new way.
I wonder if these rituals exist because our ancestors knew, way back when, that we needed an excuse to pause and look around and mark the moment in time, no matter the circumstances.
Since the wedding, ritual has been on my mind as I picked my son up from elementary school for the last time, or got a kiss on the cheek from my oldest when he arrived home from his last day of his freshman year.
This trip to Marfa is my own ritual.
About eight years ago, I came to Marfa for that destination wedding I mentioned. I was newly divorced and at the beginning of the next chapter. My single years. The “I’m 30 with two kids and an ex-husband” experience.
Over those years, I grew tremendously. Loved and lost. Launched some podcasts. Bought a house. Wrote some stories I’m proud of. Spoke at my dad’s funeral. Formed a union. Quit my job.
Transformed my life into something I couldn’t have imagined.
And now that chapter is now closing. And I’m ritualizing the heck out of it.
We’ve been having tea and taking walks and eating dinner together. Talking about the transitions in our lives and what we learned as we went through them. “Ritual” comes from “rite,” which is connected to “to count.”
One of my favorite everyday rituals has always been watching the sunset, and last night’s was a doozy because a storm rolled by in the distance.
It made me think about John Green’s podcast, “The Anthropocene Reviewed,” where he “reviews” things like sunsets. It’s like a puppy rolling over to have its belly rubbed, he explains. It’s opening ourselves up to the full expression of humanity, even if admiring its beauty leaves us vulnerable to pain, loss or an unexpected change.
Turning everything from making coffee to leaving a job into something that feels more like a ritual can feel like turning toward the sunset and closing your eyes and letting the beauty of the moment wash over you.
And we don’t have to wait for weddings to experience it.
Happy June! I know these past few weeks have been anything but happy on a number of fronts, but it’s during this tumultuous time, I like to use this newsletter to bring something generative and maybe even a little joyous.
This is Dani’s first time in the Trans-Pecos, and we’re here for rest and relaxation but also this kind of ritual work.
It’s been exactly a year since I left the Statesman, and she’s three months into a new job, so we booked this trip with the intention for it to be a healing, bonding time to mark the anniversary.
It feels so much richer when I think of the whole trip as a ritual that we both very much needed.
I hope that ritual serves you in some way this week. Coffee. An after-dinner walk. A few minutes before bed reflecting on the day.
If there’s a big ritual coming up, use the smaller rituals to fortify you for the big one. Let it be easy.
Be well and thank you so much for your support. Always.
Thank you for putting together an incredible story of our family and rituals!