In conversations this week I’ve used the word tradition to describe several events I’ve participated in once, such as the Survivor Mud Run and the Turkey Trot, and I started to wonder why I was choosing that specific term to describe things that were traditional only in the sense that I was planning on doing them more than once. Even as I was about to utter it, I would pause for a brief moment to consider the ramifications of using such a weighty word. Traditions to me mean shared experiences that are unique to a specific group of individuals, that are followed rigorously, and that go back generations or even eons. What I was describing hardly seemed to fall into my own definition.
I arrived at an answer as we finished our 2nd annual running of the 6th annual Turkey Trot, and it seems so simple now that I write it, but I’m coming to realize how complex and mostly primal the answer is: I’m trying to build a legacy and a sense of stability and meaning by creating my own traditions. Something that others will carry on after I’m gone, or at the very least something common the group can refer back to as the participants—an event that grounds us to a specific place and against which we can mark the passage of time.
In our highly mobile society I think we’re doing this a lot more than we used to; perhaps more than we ever have. While I bring some traditions with me from my parents, and by extension my ancestors, I really have very little that I continue explicitly, and those traditions I do consider important are for the most part the ones my parents (highly mobile individuals that they were, too) created themselves. I know my mom gets a great amount of satisfaction when she hears that we are carrying on a tradition she and my dad started. It’s a slice of immortality and a validation that what we did together as a family 30 years ago is still important to me today—important enough that I’m passing it on to my family. What I seem to have left behind are those traditions were are locally bound; those events that require living in a specific place and knowing people within a community for generations. I didn’t have too many of those to start with, so I don’t feel any real sense of loss. In fact, I appreciate the freedom I have to shape my own traditions, and to use those traditions from my family that carry the most meaning for me. (I dearly missed the annual game of Oh, Hell this year).
As I adopt and carry forward those traditions, I’m apparently carrying on the other tradition of creating my own traditions. And as I look around me at those individuals who are part of these newly-budding traditions I see that they, too, are building their own legacies—marking a point in time and assigning meaning and value to it—and I feel honored to be a part of their community, too.