Brooks: Ceremonies mark moments that matter

My brother-in-law says that my family makes everything a production.

He was most recently referring to the "Queen for a Day" coronation my aunts and cousins put on for my grandmother. It was filled with pomp and circumstance and she loved it.

The made-up ceremony opened space for us to share special things with each other. We laughed. We cried. We remembered well the things that have grown our family's love for each other.

There is something to be said for ceremony. While it can quickly become meaningless and silly, it also provides a framework for the significance for which I sometimes long.

Last week I found myself grasping for some meaningful structure. One of my neighbors was moving, so I went to tell her goodbye. While moving away is a pretty common occurrence, the circumstances around this family made the goodbye especially hard.

Paulina and her three children were moving back to Mexico to be with her husband, who was deported.

Whatever you think about the rightness or wrongness of this, Paulina was my neighbor and had become a friend. I was sorry to see her and her children go.

Her husband was one of the day laborers police picked up in an undercover operation when 12 laborers were "hired" and instead of being driven to work were taken to the Police Department and deported.

For Paulina and her kids, everything changed that day for the worse. They have lived with such insecurity and stress that their relationships and home life deteriorated. Every time I went to visit them it was as if the worry filling Paulina's mind was manifesting itself in the stuff filling her home.

By the time I went to say goodbye there was nowhere to sit down, just barely a place to stand.

"Do you have anything we could take for the road?" she asked, standing in her living room.

I looked around at the mounds of clutter wondering what I could possibly give her. I realized she wanted something, but did not know what to ask for, and I did not know what to give her. That's when I noticed my longing for a ceremony.

A quick hug goodbye was not going to cut it. She wanted something to take with her apart from her pain and piles.

I wanted to send her with something meaningful, some sort of blessing. I did not want this strong woman veiled with a soft voice and small frame to simply fade across the border with her brood.

I wanted them to be sent out, for there to be more purpose in this crossing than there was on that day we met when everything changed for their family. I wanted it to matter that they had been here and for them to know that someone cared that they were leaving. I wanted this journey to mean something. So I did not say goodbye that day.

Thinking along the lines of the golden rule, I thought of what I like on a long journey. Gum and beverages were all I could come up with. So I bought a pack of gum for each kid and a case of water.

Armed with my offerings and a travel blessing I found on the Internet, I went back to Paulina's apartment one last time. We circled up in the living room, their stuff now packed in mountains of trash bags around us. I handed out the gum and told the four of them how much I liked being their friend. I asked if I could read the blessing over them. And there in our little circle we prayed for a safe journey and fresh start.

Paulina and I hugged and cried. I pressed the blessing into her hands and left.

As far as ceremonies go, it was pretty pathetic, but it was something to mark the day.

CRISSY BROOKS is co-founder and executive director of Mika Community Development Corp., a faith-based nonprofit in Costa Mesa, where she lives.

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