Convening at a Major Life Event
“We should do this at least once a month”, I said perhaps three too many times that night. My wife and I were cavorting with friends at our mutual friends’ wedding in California’s breathtaking Central Coast . It wasn’t simply the striking landscape and golden mountains that made me want to suspend this occasion for a spell. It was being in nature with dear friends, celebrating a beautiful matrimony, enjoying Mexican food, and savoring hoppy beer.
During a lull in the conversation and a few yearning glances at the backlit mountainside, I thought about how as a culture, we sanctify what I’ll call “major life events.” The sort of events that warrant grand celebrations and relatively expensive booze. And feasts that fail to feature in your typical post-work Tuesday evening fare.
Weddings and funerals. Engagements and graduations and retirements. Baby showers and “birthdays on the 10s.” You know, 30 and then 40, after which we’re neglected for a while—turning 46? Good luck with that—no to worry, the celebration picks back up at 80, 90, and if we’ve managed to live a safe and uninteresting life, 100!
The Primacy of the Major Life Event
As a culture, we hold these major life events in high regard. And to me, weddings, births, and deaths are cause for celebration. Indeed, they seldom occur—for most of us—and they represent significant transitions in life.
It’s when we reserve our mirth for these major life events that we dampen our lived experience. Otherwise mirthless, we spend the majority of our time occupying the space between major life events—i.e., “life itself”—in a fugue state. We wander through the blank and boring, dull and drab void until we bump into that next “major life event.”
A reasonable person like you might ask, “what’s wrong with celebrating significant events? Isn’t it good to have something to ‘look forward to?” Of course, there’s nothing wrong with celebrating or looking forward to major life events.
Living Life between Events
However, by perpetually looking forward, we neglect to look upward, downward, inward, “around-ward.” We fail to be present. Rooted in the moment, participating in life’s great unfolding. We miss out on becoming like a soulful character in Paul Harding’s beautiful book, Enon, “a connoisseur of the day.”
In a forward-looking state, days start to blend together, feel like carbon copies of each other. Years stream by without our realizing it. We sense that we’ve wasted time, wasted life.
In an interesting book I read recently called Time Warped, author Claudia Hammond highlights research on the reason time seems to fly by as we age. Time flies not because one minute or one hour represents an increasingly smaller portion of our overall lives—people in the 70s don’t perceive time’s passing differently than people in their 30s. Instead, we most often and most deeply remember novelty.
Something we all experience is called the “reminiscence bump.” A period from when we were between the ages of about 15 and 25. This tends to be a time when we encounter a myriad of “firsts”—our first driver’s test; our first date or love; our first job; our first vote; first smoke; drink; among many more savory and unsavory activities.
After we’ve surpassed this “reminiscence bump”, we enter a period of relative stability. Or should I say, “boring sameness” in the capitalist shape of jobs, relationships, routines, hobbies, and habits.
And so it is: given our modern life’s inherent lifelessness, we anticipate the next “major life event.”
Building Our Livelihoods Together
What we all sense to be true is that it’s not the events per se we anticipate and cherish. It’s one another’s company. And the merriment brought to us by being in each other’s physical presence. If we were to concentrate on this “getting together”, this “conviviality”, we’d likely conclude that such occasions don’t happen often enough.
Thus, we must develop, devise, program, and promote major life events, advertising them as such if we expect anyone to show up for the party.
Toward the end of the wedding, my friend John and I concurred that we should create a reason for those gathered at this major life event to convene again in some not-too-distant future. “A friends’ retreat”, John suggested.
Right on. A retreat. Retreating away from this culture of having. This life of overscheduling and over programming. Instead, advancing toward a culture of doing. A culture that recognizes and honors “major life events”, yet sees life not as a waystation, but as a landscape rich with possibility. Latent with the chance to build our livelihoods together. Garden by garden. Shovel by shovel. Beam by beam.Follow SethLaJ307