Beginning Again in Middle-Life

Sarah Ritchie Ceremonies for Healing

The “Great Recession” that we have all endured over the last couple of years has left many individuals struggling to find their way after a job loss. Millions of Americans, due to no fault of their own, have lost jobs that provide social and intellectual satisfaction, in addition to an obvious means of financial support. And, unlike other economic downturns, this recession has impacted an unusually broad spectrum of American workers throughout every geographic area in our sprawling country.

The negative impacts of a job “downsizing” are innumerable and are often associated with a sense of personal failure and shame. Celebrants have responded to this difficult life passage by developing special ceremonies of healing around this unfortunate circumstance, bringing light and hope to those experiencing a lay-off. The particular choreography of this ceremony is guided by the personality of the individual and family involved. The primary goal, in each case, is to recognize the contribution and worth of the newly unemployed worker and to underscore the continued support that person will receive from his or her community of loved ones.

A number of months ago, I was able to attend a “downsizing” ceremony conducted on behalf of a senior worker in the financial and technology field. In a small gathering in a sweet patio garden of an Upper West Side townhouse, about two dozen individuals joined to listen to the personal narrative of this individual who was lovingly surrounded by his wife and friends from every era of his life. The Celebrant leading the ceremony had woven together the narrative of this fellow’s personal life and work history. At various junctures in the ceremony, literal gifts were opened by the honoree, representing different points in his career path. The ceremony was punctuated with readings and descriptions of the value of this person’s work, skills, and abilities. Moreover, the ceremony provided a backdrop of encouragement that this difficult time would birth new possibilities in his work and personal life. For this person, he transition from working within a large institution to becoming a consultant in a more particularized part of the technology sector. The honoree was most certainly grateful for this respite in coping with his new status as a displaced member of the American economy.

I believe that it was really a healing moment for all involved. In an advanced economy, like ours, one’s worth is often reduced to his or her gross income. This gathering reminded all of us that our value cannot be counted in dollars, but is about the love and service we give in our work and the dedication to a job well done, regardless of what it says on a business card. The event was a visual representation that “we are all in this together.” We travel on the road of life as part of a larger tribe, whose members will be there to pick up on of the beloved when he stumbles. There is no amount of money that can buy that gift.