Sunday, July 17, 2011

Traditiooooooon! (please tell me you've seen Fiddler on the Roof)

When you move out from under your parents' roof, you have to get your own stuff, and there's a lot of it. When you start stocking your home and life from scratch, you realize just how much crap you use over the course of a day, a week, a month: toilet paper, bed linens, furniture, USB cables, salt and pepper shakers, plastic straws, batteries, a screwdriver (which can incidentally be used to jab into your eye when you realize how fast the total bill is piling up). Every time you go to do something routine, you realize you need another odd and/or end for the task that you took for granted before. Want to clip that horrible hangnail on your big toe? Sorry, no toenail clippers; you'll just have to suffer every time you move your foot and your sock catches on that damned little sliver and threatens to rip out the rest of the nail.

Not only am I discovering how to stock my home by getting my own stuff, I am realizing the necessity of getting my own identity. Before, I was an Independent because Mom and Dad were Independents. I bought Angel Soft toilet paper because they always had. I never questioned washing dishes with a cloth instead of a sponge because that's just the way it's always been done. Now I'm free to choose how I want to do things, even as mundane as folding towels in thirds instead of half, what I value, and what I want to be. Or am I?

Even though I am under no obligation to do anything like my parents or continue in their time-honored traditions in even trivial daily tasks, I find myself unnaturally attached to all the little quirks of my family. Now, every time I do something that I now realize (courtesy of my roommate) that not everyone in the world does (only my family, surprise surprise), I feel connected to them, even from 1500 miles away.

Traditions, whether major or trivial, significant or quotidian, link all humans, bridging vast distances in time and space to hold us together on a scale as grand as a species and as intimate as a family. Today I discovered the importance of tradition in not only connecting people but in defining an individual. After not having attended Mass regularly in four years, I had the undeniable urge, an irresistible tugging on the strings of my heart, to go to Church. For the first half of Mass, I thought it was only a desire to deepen my relationship with God, now that He is really the only friend I have available to me in any proximity. However, as I recited the Our Father, my mind's eye saw Mom and Dad in a pew halfway across the country doing the exact same thing, as well as Memere and Pepere, my aunts and uncles, and so many others I care about. My religious identity is no longer just about God, but about my family and our identity, our traditions. My heart steered me towards the nearest church on my very first Sunday alone not just because of religious desire, but also because I knew Mom would be proud, because it's what I was brought up to do, because it's what Thibodeaus have been doing for centuries, and because I honestly want it to be part of who I am. I can't let my parents' actions and preferences define me anymore, but more and more that seems to mean freely choosing them for myself. I am no longer Catholic because my parents are, but because I am, by my own volition.

In one hour on a Sunday morning, I learned things about myself that I had not been able to pin down in almost twenty-two years; this morning, I began in earnest to define my identity as an independent individual, which, ironically, is inexorably tied up in and depends upon the traditions and values instilled in her by others. I can only hope to make my family proud by continuing on in the traditions of love, faith, and our unique brand of insanity that define who we are and the person I am (all too suddenly) becoming.