The Power of Ritual


December 11
Today was my last day with Jacobs Engineering. It was my last day at the Waterton Complex, my last shift in Trailer #4, and my last time seeing the Rocky Mountains from that hilltop. I sent my last email from my company email address, set my out-of-office to redirect inquiries, and changed my voice mail. I filed my last email to the network, cleaned out my desk, and packed a box of paperwork to be sent to the Home Office. I said my last good-byes, packed my bags, and took the last bus off the plant site. And as I sat there looking out the window at the full moon shining down on a plant I dreaded going to every morning, I actually found myself grieving.

Grieving? I couldn’t believe myself. After four and a half years of work that I did not enjoy, and weeks of counting down the days to this last glorious exodus, here I was sitting on a bus full of construction workers, wondering why I felt sad instead of deliriously happy. This was it – my Liberation, my Graduation Day, my Great Escape, the day I had looked forward to, at times, with desperation. Now, here it is: a disappointment.

Well, not so much a disappointment as a sense of passing. Yes, it is grief. Despite escaping the pain of having to get up and go to work every day, I’m grieving the relationships I’m leaving behind, and my sense of place and purpose in this community.

I felt it called for a ritual of some kind.

So, here I am, having my Last Supper at Luigi’s Pizza and Steakhouse – one of Pincher Creek’s few fine restaurants. I’m having the veal cutlets, which I’ve had before, but this time I’m having it with fetuccini marinara instead of fries, which I’ve never had before. Usually I like trying new things, but some occasions call for the familiar.

Ritual gives us a sense of meaning in a chaotic world – a sense of place in the cosmos. Whether it’s blowing out the birthday candles, or receiving Holy Communion, ritual allows us to grasp onto the comfort of the familiar. Not familiar in the tawdry sense of dirty underwear on the bedroom floor, but comforting, in the sense of… the sound of dad’s car in the driveway, or a lover’s perfume, or the feeling of one’s own bed after a tiring trip.

I grew up with a strong sense of religious ritual, and although I’ve happily moved on to a broader sense of Spirit, I sometimes miss the ritual. The same liturgy repeated week after week, the sound of the organ, the smell of the old wooden pews, and the taste of the wine. I don’t remember these as being boring (although I recall skipping church a lot) – I recall a sense of comfort in the familiar repetition. It had meaning. I had a sense of place in God’s family, in the community, in the cosmos. I had a sense of self as part of a greater whole. It was a profound sense of the divine captured in the simple woodwork and wine of a small church.

December 12
This morning as I left my apartment in Pincher Creek, I did a closing ritual. I thanked the apartment for protecting me and keeping me comfortable these last 10 months, and I did a little bow with folded hands. I blessed the place. Then I blessed the town, and the countryside. Then I drove away with a sense of completion.

Tonight I burned my business cards in the fireplace. That didn’t have the same sense of completion attached to it.

Maybe I was just expecting too much.

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About Craig

Craig lives in Calgary, Alberta.
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