"Can we make this a ritual?" my then-9-year-old niece asked me. We had just run under the waterfall at Moore's Cove in the western North Carolina mountains, where the water temperature-even in July-hovers around 50 degrees. Kaitlyn, her mother, her brothers, my golden retriever, and I had hiked to the falls and then dashed under one at a time, with the appropriate screams and gasps as the cold water pounded down on us.
"What do you mean, Kaitlyn?" I asked her.
"Well, could we come here every summer on this same weekend and run under the waterfall?"
At an early age, Kaitlyn has a grasp of the importance of rituals and memories. In the summers since, she and her family have made the trek on the last weekend in July to run under the waterfall. This past year we took pictures.
I'd already begun to build other rituals into my yearly calendar. Each fall I take a retreat to honor the resplendent turning of the leaves. During that long, cold spell each February, I journey with friends to the South Carolina coast for a week of rest and celebration. At Christmas-no matter where I am-I light a fire, heat up some spiced cider, and invite friends over for a reading of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever
. These times become touchstones of remembrance.
LAST FALL I TURNED 40. That seemed worthy of special celebration. I got in my car and drove back to all the places within reach that had been special in my life. I spent time with my parents in Pennsylvania, my sisters in Virginia and North Carolina; on up to Connecticut, where I was in seminary a long time ago; two days on the coast of Maine and a visit back to my college campus there; a swing through New York City and Washington, D.C.
On the way I ate strawberry Twizzlers and Krackel bars (childhood favorites), got pizza at my favorite New Haven restaurant, and ate four lobsters in two days in Maine. I walked down Chocolate Avenue in Hershey, Pennsylvania, my home town. I listened to "oldies" on the car radio at every opportunity, grateful once more for the Bee Gees and the Beatles, Motown and the Monkees (well, not exactly for the Monkees, but it provides nice alliteration).
It was a journey of the sort I highly recommend. I came home thankful for a vast cache of memories-some joyful, some painful, some that made me laugh out loud. I knew after that trip that it was time for another change in my life. Looking back, it was clear that it was time to move forward once again.
I left my beautiful mountain view in North Carolina and am in Atlanta now. I decided to finish that Master of Divinity degree I started almost 20 years ago. Savannah, the golden retriever, has to settle for a big backyard and a nightly romp with other urban dogs at the Carter Presidential Center. I'm studying Barth and Tillich, working as a chaplain on the cancer ward of Emory University's children's hospital, and wondering if my new home town will survive the Olympics.
Life goes on. I carry pieces of the past all along the way. And next month, when I gather friends together for a fireside Christmas reading, I'll remember all the other places and all the other friends with which I have shared that ritual. And, once again, I'll thank God that life can be so rich.
JOYCE HOLLYDAY, a Sojourners contributing editor, worked as a court advocate with survivors of domestic violence in western North Carolina. She is currently in the Master of Divinity program at Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta. She is the author, most recently, of
Clothed With the Sun: Biblical Women, Social Justice, and Us (Westminister/John Knox Press, 1994).