It is done. I opened them.
I found two boxes in my garage a few weeks ago, brought them into my bedroom and there they sat. Gut instinct said “this is important”. Yet I could not open them. Until I was compelled to on the eve of the review date.
The review date for an application which if it went as planned, I would be on the final step to officially ending a 20-year marriage. After months of waiting, the court would finally get round to reviewing the joint application and hopefully the paperwork would be in order (I am a lawyer after all?). With this, the final countdown of “a month and a day” would begin, culminating in a decree being issued dissolving the marriage.
So… the boxes. They contain years of letters and cards between my ex-husband and I. Now some may think I am a masochist for even venturing to open them. It had been suggested that I should merely…erm…burn them. That wouldn’t be so difficult except it would also mean eradicating a past, a history of 20 years. That I could not do.
He and I did not leave the marriage on bad terms, albeit sad. There were disagreements and mismatched values and priorities. I wouldn’t be who I am today if not for the lessons learned, the overcoming and the achievement. Now, this could be a good thing or a bad one 🙂 though I am not making judgments now.
Opening the boxes and reading through some of the correspondence was enlightening in its own way. Girding my loins, so to speak, to be an observer of the past – of who or what each of us used to be, how we felt and did… and the interactions and navigation of our lives with each other. A reminder that despite that which plagued the marriage, there were indeed good times worthy of remembering and passing on to our children.
The alone time going through the memories served as a ritual.
This is what rituals are for. We do spiritual ceremonies as human beings in order to create a safe resting place for our most complicated feelings of joy or trauma, so that we don’t have to haul those feelings around with us forever, weighing us down. We all need such places of ritual safekeeping. And I do believe that if your culture or tradition doesn’t have the specific ritual you are craving, then you are absolutely permitted to make up a ceremony of your own devising, fixing your own broken-down emotional systems with all the do-it-yourself resourcefulness of a generous plumber/poet.
~ Elizabeth Gilbert, “Eat, Pray, Love”
I grew up in a culture with many rituals and symbols. Rituals for the coming of age, in preparation of a marriage, in celebration of birth, to mourn the passing of life. Most cultures do. And with these rituals are the symbols used – from mandarins to rice buns in the shape of flowers, the colours of white, red and black… I am not aware of a ritual to see the ending of a marital relationship, at least not through positive lens. I do not engage with nor wish to perpetuate the narrative of necessary anger and hurt, prolonged bitterness and blame. I do not wear victimhood well, as my culture (or dare I say, most normative cultures) would wish to foist upon a woman post-divorce.
The opening of these two boxes was my ritual of re-membering into this body the parts which I still wish to be attached to, and of removing the parts which no longer serve me; a psychological and emotional letting go, if you like. It was a ritual to mark a significant event in my life, to not let it pass unnoticed.
Ritual is necessary for us to know anything. ~ Ken Kesey
For as I now realise, there were still lessons to be learned. As I explored paper and ink, I saw a Me which I had forgotten; I marvelled at the transformation and of what is maintained despite the passing of time with its many celebrations and challenges.
My intuition or gut instinct spoke true. This needed doing, and it was good. As has been said of musical rituals, [r]itual instructs not only at the level of intellect…but also at the level of the soul.
I believe the same is true for any type of ritual, as a rite of passage between worlds and arriving firm in one’s own self-identity and prepared for a new role.
And so it is done.
A poem from one of my favourite poets…
The road in the end taking the path the sun had taken,
into the western sea, and the moon rising behind you
as you stood where ground turned to ocean: no way
to your future now but the way your shadow could take,
walking before you across water, going where shadows go,
no way to make sense of a world that wouldn’t let you pass
except to call an end to the way you had come,
to take out each frayed letter you had brought
and light their illumined corners; and to read
them as they drifted on the late western light;
to empty your bags; to sort this and to leave that;
to promise what you needed to promise all along,
and to abandon the shoes that brought you here
right at the water’s edge, not because you had given up
but because now, you would find a different way to tread,
and because, through it all, part of you would still walk on,
no matter how, over the waves.
– David Whyte
What rituals do you have in your life? To what purpose do they serve? What is your arriving?
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