Musings On Tradition

Written by guest blogger:  The Hubster

The musical Fiddler on the Roof opens with the wonderful song, Tradition.  Tevia, with support from his family, extols the many virtues of tradition.  It is the foundation of community, family, and individual life.  Those familiar with Fiddler know that the rest of the story details the gradual dismantling of tradition and the resulting heartbreak for Tevia and others.  I can relate.

Five months shy of my 50th birthday, I am squarely in mid-life.  This is not entirely a bad thing.  I have lived long enough to have learned a few things, and in our youth-obsessed culture I am not old enough to be completely irrelevant.  I am fortunate to still be married to the same wonderful woman.  Together we have weathered the inevitable ups and downs of 25 years together.  Financial advisors tell me I’m in my peak earning years.  I never had dominating financial goals and find myself amazed at our relatively solid financial footing.  Our two children have grown to productive and responsible adults, each living on their own and independent.  I have friends on whom I can depend and I am a friend on whom others can depend.  Crisis hardly seems the correct descriptor for my mid-life.

Yet, as of late I’ve been feeling a certain kinship with Tevia whose life becomes more and more unsettled with each passing scene.  Like Tevia, tradition has given me a sense of stability, a certain comfort in the midst of an otherwise always changing world.  Like the seasons, the regular rhythms of family life provide dependability to an otherwise unpredictable life.  That dependability has been the foundation upon which my confidence to explore life’s possibilities is built.  Think of the young toddler at the beach who ventures forth from their parent’s grasp to put a toe in the water.  They proceed cautiously; frequently looking back to make sure Mom is still there, occasionally running back to Dad’s arms for reassurance before venturing again to the water’s edge.  Tradition has been like that for me.  To say it another way, the knowledge that some things are steadfast and unchanging enables me to embrace the change and growth a full and meaningful life offers.

Again, like Tevia, I have been acutely aware that my beloved and dependable traditions are disappearing.  Some have changed because of the natural, even desirable changes in family life.  Children grow up, move away, and start lives of their own.  Even if we could all be together on Christmas morning it would be inappropriate to make the “kids” dutifully sit at the top of the stairs in their pajamas so that I could take their picture before they came downstairs to presents under the tree.  Some traditions are age-specific and so far there are no grandchildren to introduce to this part of family lore.

Some changes are understandable, but not desirable.  Thanksgiving with extended family at my brother’s house simply is not the same when my still mobile father is present at the encourage of my now home-bound 91-year old mother who will not make that trip again.  We adapt and adjust, but with mixed feelings.

Other change may be inevitable, but at least for me is still unwelcome.  I recall with great fondness Christmas Eve services with the family; the shared experiences with my wife and two children reverently singing Silent Night and holding candles aloft.  Now, because of distance and membership in two different churches, I sing alone.

And then there is change that is full of grief.  Death takes a loved one and the rhythm of tradition is altered forever.  With my Mother-in-law’s death this is the first holiday season my wife and I have experienced with all of our parents living.  Not all grief comes from physical death.  For years, my friend from college-days and our families would gather over the New Years holiday, from year-to-year alternating homes.  That friend is now recently divorced and rebuilding his life.  In this case tradition is an unpleasant reminder of what is no more and our New Years gatherings are just one more casualty in this death of a different kind.

As traditions erode, Tevia and I are left looking for some solid ground on which to stand.  Neither of us is too happy about it.  I resonate with Tevia’s regular arguments with God.  “On the one hand…” says Tevia.  The traditions have served us well for generations.  They are good and right.  They are necessary.  “On the other hand…” he reasons.  It is a new day.  Things change.  We must change with them.  On the one hand… on the other hand… Tevia’s singing my song.

Maybe that is the best definition a mid-life crisis. I’m stuck between the “hands.”

On the one hand life is pretty good.  Things have been accomplished, goals reached, and the future is full of possibility.  On the other hand much of the foundation on which this life is built has shifted and no longer feels certain.  I’m not opposed to testing the waters of newness and potential but what do I run back to when the waves are larger than expected and the undertow more fierce than anticipated?

So, as I near my 50th birthday I seek to find some new ground to stand on.  It need not be completely different ground.  I’m not interested in those stereotypical expressions of mid-life – sports car, toupee, new relationship, etc.  Those seem to be more about reclaiming some sort of lost youth than about finding something meaningful and productive for the future.

No, my new ground will be built on the values and principles that undergirded the old traditions I now long for.  Family still matters and my wife continues as the central part of my family.  We will find a new way together.  Relationships with my children will look different from those Christmas mornings when they eagerly sat at the top of the steps and playfully rolled their eyes and indulged their father with yet another picture.  But those relationships are no less important and my new ground will build new traditions with them.  Faith undergirds all things for me.  God is unchanging, but my understanding of God is ever-evolving.  I will find new ways to live out my faith with meaning.  I value being physically active and participating in much of what life has to offer.  My ability to do this can no longer be taken for granted.  My new foundation will need to be more intentional about this.  I have always, and will continue to seek to make a difference in my part of the world.  My vocational and volunteer choices are fueled by this desire and it will continue to be prominent in my emerging sense of self and my world.  There is still much to do; still much I can do.

I don’t know what the new traditions will look like.  That is the thing about traditions.  They don’t become traditions until you find yourself doing them over and over again.  I’m off to a decent start… we’ve decided to get a dog!

I think we’ll name him Tevia…

Written by guest blogger:  The Hubster

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. jcurmudge
    Dec 26, 2009 @ 18:53:11

    As my 85 year old twin brother states we think of that which is past and still look forward to the future. It is amazing how things change and remain in our memory of times past. I for one still remember playing the Rabbi in Fiddler with my son, Will, the “poor tailor”. At 85 no more roles at Billings Studio Theatre. And going to a play without my dear departed wife is to much pain.

    Have a great 49 and beyond.

  2. John Taylor
    Dec 25, 2009 @ 20:41:02

    Life evolves. As you have stated, the big 50 can remind us of the past and conjure up the future. A dog named Tevia can keep you looking forward.

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