Hey there my dear People of the Journal,
As promised, here it’s the second entry out of the three “sensitive” issues. And just when I thought this would be tricky to write, I was given a reason to lash at it with ease.
My grandfather’s sister passed away on Saturday. She was 83, God rest her soul and we were, to some extent, getting ready for this to happen. As she had no other close relatives (no children and her husband passed away a long while ago), we were the only ones who could look after the funeral arrangements.
It has been a very, very long time since we’ve had such an event in our family so we were not really used to the proceedings, therefore mom, grandma and I divided the chores in such way that all things are handled properly. Grandma took care of the paper work – which was a pain in the ass considering this happened on a weekend and because a neighbor found her dead, the police was involved and things became ten times more complicated. Eventually, it took us several trips down to the doctor’s office and the city hall and we got it all sorted out. The “fun” part rested with mom and I. It so happened that mom was in ER for that weekend. She works at the maternity and she can’t leave – obviously! – when being on duty. So we lost half of day both Saturday and Sunday waiting for her to get out from work to go grocery shopping for the funeral.
Finding large quantities of food on a short notice seems to be a very painstaking job. We had to buy 3kg of chicken wings here, another 3kg from another place because they were running out of supplies at the end of the week. And it went like this with pretty much everything on our shopping list except for cucumbers, tomatoes, eggs and cabbage. We bought so much food as if we were getting ready for a full scale baptism party. Mom explained we had to do 44 food packages to give away to people, another 12 to give away at the burial site. Plus a special, different package for each priest and altar boy attending.
Now. Forget the food packages, the handkerchiefs tied with red thread to one end with a coin inside and a candle as well. Nor the head coverings (basmale) also tied with candles to one end. Let’s stick to the details I can’t understand and that make no sense to me, and that – especially! – no one could explain.
I know us Romanians, or perhaps the Orthodox religion in itself, are very fond of traditions. The more the merrier. My question is, how many of them are actually grounded in religion and how many are “popular beliefs and creations” that have been passed on from generation to generation and they have become “real” because we know them from five generations back.
Let’s start with the happier events: weddings.
1. Look at your husband through your wedding band without him seeing you so that you have beautiful children. Like that makes sense! What if your husband switches position right that very moment and the best man pops in the ring. What then? Haha Just kidding. It has no logic, but at least it’s fun.
2. If a pearl or any sort of tiny decoration falls off your dress, you have to look for it immediately and find it because it’s bad luck not to have all that stuff back on your dress. It makes no sense and it’s not even fun. It could be useful from one point of view though: if you want to get rid of all the “babe” (note: for the Romanians who perceive this word as having a bad connotation, let me just say this word to me defines a clear group of elderly women who will bite your head off, stress you to the bone and be in your hair about every single unnecessary detail that you don’t really care for when it comes to all big events in your life from birth to death. We all know what we’re talking about!) As I was saying, tell a group of “babe” that you’ve lost something and then you can go on with your wedding while they spend at least half an hour looking for it!
3. Putting thorns in the bride’s shoes to make her cry in case she doesn’t when leaving her parents’ home. Makes sense to a certain extent, but surely it’s no fun for the bride.
4. Putting a bucket filled with water when exiting the church to throw money in for abundance during marriage. Somewhat makes sense; not if the groom is the one throwing the money in the bucket. That’s not abundance. That’s him already spending both your money!!!!
5. The bride should step on the husband’s foot during the sermon for him to be obedient and “under her shoe!” Other than getting the guy’s shoe dirty and him rather annoyed with it, it’s ridiculous. We know it’s never going to happen. Not by stepping on his toes anyway!!!
6. Of course we have borrowed the something old, something blue, something new and so on from abroad. So that’s not worth mentioning. People don’t remember that before we had bride maids, we had our own traditional “sister to the bride” and “brother to the groom” which are now lost in favor of the international approach of this concept.
I am sure there are many more traditions related to the wedding that I don’t know of, these were just a few.
But let’s move on to baptism. One baby step at a time.
1. We all know that the woman in religion it is usually considered the “impure” one. Yes, yes! Us women, we were such gullible idiots that we got tricked by the devil and took the apple from it. And then we had the audacity to fool Adam into taking the apple from us. Because you know – Adam, God’s most exquisite creation, did not have a brain of his own and a mouth to use and say NO, THANK YOU to Eve. But hey, now that he fell into our blasphemous trap and he did take the apple (horrendous!!!), the woman had to be punished (and because Adam was also thrown out of Eden as well because of us, men will always have a say about it. Don’t take it personally gents, but I still believe Adam should have opened his mouth and take a manly decision about that apple. Or perhaps he didn’t because of too much love for Eve. HA!). Ok, now they are both kicked out and Eve is being punished with the pain of birth (and her period! – let us remember half of the women on earth endure at least half of what means delivering a baby on a monthly basis during their period!) And I am sorry to say, half of the men in this world would pass out from day 1 out of 4 to 6 of our period! So, she’s been punished twice: out of Heaven and pain! Yet after she gives birth and during her breast feeding and I believe the first 40 days after delivering she is still considered impure.
Of course she is impure! I mean she does push out of her body a huge baby! (a gore image filled with blood and placenta and all that – through a very tiny whole!!!!!!) So yeah, it’s definitely a pretty filthy job and the labor can take up to 20 hours! But she does it. It’s like a damn walk in the park for us.
Now the baptism has to happen. And by religious concepts it should happen in the first 40 days or so after birth even though, often, we do it much later. Anyway, if it happens early, the mother has to go through some “purification” sermons performed by the priests. Then when the baptism time comes – surprise! – she is held at the door for being impure when the father, the godparents and the child, as well as all the guests, are up in front of the altar. Now how the heck does that work for these people?
And what enrages me more is that sometimes you have an alcoholic, abusive womanizer of a father who doesn’t give a flying CRAP but who is sanctified by the church cause he’s Adam’s successor and allowed to sit up front and enjoy the sight of that beautiful child while the mother is banished all the way to the entry.
Let us remember, the same happens with women during their period. Our period make us “impure”: therefore we cannot enter the church, we can only stay at the door during that time. Perhaps we need to be reminded that because of our period we can have babies, babies who are considered to be “the miracle of God”. So why then the very thing that makes us fertile is considered an impurity and the delivery of God’s miracle through immense pain (don’t tell me about pain killers and anesthetic gents! That baby still comes out that way and it tears through you with or without anesthesia!) women are still impure? Don’t you find these terms a bit contradictory?
Same with entering the altar. Any man out there, be him good or bad, can enter the altar. But a good or a bad woman cannot. Where is the difference? Men are no more saints than women as far as I’m concerned. When I was about 8 years old the cathedral was built in my home town. There were only walls, a few icons and a place to light candles. No doors to the altar, nothing. We are very good friends with the priest’s family so we would help clean the icons and paintings from the smoke rising from the candles. I would go into the altar and put flowers and arrange things. Until one day when the doors came in and the altar officially became an altar and they started performing sermons. As a child the doors made no difference to me as for years I had done the same. So I went in when this 35 – 40 year old man grabbed my arm and said “Women are not allowed in the altar!” and literally kicked me out. I was a ten year old woman without even the “impurity” of my period. In my childish mind I wondered how is it that a man so much older who probably lied and cursed more than I ever did was more entitled to be there and I was not. I went and told mom how upset I was with the issue and never forgot the incident. As I was saying. Unfair.
Ok, I’m going to write down a conclusion to this when I’m done with them all.
Now, it looks like we might have a winner though when it comes to religious traditions. Funerals.
So. Let’s start with the part where we’re still at home, waiting to go to the burial site and then move on.
1. You have to tie the dead person’s legs together. From the sermon in the church I realized this custom is required as at some point the priest says “break the bonds and release this soul” so they cut that bond then and there. What I don’t understand is why they have to burn that thread in three places. Nothing explains that. Fine, I’ll say it’s something related to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
2. There has to be a black and red string knotted together and placed in the coffin and also an embroidered head band to place on the dead person’s forehead. Why? No one can tell me.
3. I can understand the part with the coins being given away or thrown after the gathering joining the deceased on their final trip to the grave. Ever since back in mythology the dead were placed coins on their eyes to pay the boatman who crossed them the river Styx into the other realm. And the sermon as well mentions that the dead have to pay “customs” in heavens.
4. Flowers are placed in the coffin on each side of the dead. But you cannot move the flowers from one side to the other on top of the dead. Why? It’s not like we’re talking about a religious object, say a cross or something else that might have some sort of spiritual symbolism. No, it’s a simple flower. But you can’t do it. The explanation: because you can’t, ‘cause this is how it’s done. By whom?!?!
5. A live hen has to be passed on top of the grave and then given to the men who buried the dead. No one could tell me why.
6. A bucket with water has to be passed on top of the grave and then all the close relatives have to wash their hands with that water. Why? No one could tell me that either.
7. Some food packages must be given at the burial site and only there. What’s the difference between the food packages given randomly at home, or at the entry of the cemetery and these ones. They are all the same. What’s the message behind it? I don’t know.
8. When we served the food at home for the people coming to pay their respects, I was not allowed to pass the food across the table; again! No can’t do. Because this is how it’s done.
9. And then eventually, at the end of the day, when I am as dirty as I can be, sweating after a hot day in the sun, marching up and down between two villages, getting a serious sun burnt during the burial ceremony, they tell me you can’t wash the day you gave way the food for the dead as you’re washing away the “essence” of it. Are you kidding me?!?!
To conclude with.
Do not get me wrong. I am not trying to mock at religion, God or the Bible. Nor at our/my/your belief. But do not ever - in any circumstance of my life – make me do things you cannot explain. I need to understand why you’re obliging me to do some things that make no sense to me. Call me the unfaithful. The non-believer, I don’t care. When you make me do things of an apparently insignificant importance that actually make me ignore the most important things: like enjoying my wedding, my dress and my friends instead of making sure I cover a list of crap – but at least most of that it’s fun so I won’t bitch about this too much.
But with the baptism – excuse me! When I have a baby no priest and no church will ever keep me at the door calling me impure. I’ll have the baptism outdoors then, so they don’t have a door to place me at. I do not want to be judged for what Eve did. I don’t know her and she doesn’t know me. If I were God I would not punish all my children for the mistake of one – a mistake that in my eyes is still debatable. And we are hundred of generations away and we still have to carry that on our backs. Religion teaches us to not pass judgment on others and to treat each person to their own deeds, be them good or bad. Then why doesn’t God apply the same lesson with humanity? Why can’t I be judged for who I am and I am judged in my most crucial moments by what Eve did? I cannot agree to this.
The same way I cannot agree with the so called hard lessons showed even in the Bible. When you want to test a man’s faith in you by striping him not only of all his material possessions, but also by his loved ones until he is led to the ultimate sacrifice. Maybe it’s me. I give people my trust rather unconditionally. I don’t need them to bleed for me to believe in their love and support. I would not ask a sacrifice as proof. Especially when you see they are fully committed and dedicated to you. And leaving some good honest people to end up on the brink of despair to then, at the last minute, hand them a tiny grain of help (just enough to make it!) doesn’t seem to me like divine help. But more like pity or worst case mockery they do not deserve considering their unconditional love for you. Again, that’s not how I’d behave with my children. And we’re supposed to be made after Him.
Still, I understand there are bigger issues at stake and that considered the many billions we are on Earth, we’re not an easy job for God to handle. So even though I may not understand His mysterious ways all the time, I will reserve my right to like Him and to rebel against His rules every now and then. I call it a special relationship and I believe Him and I will have an incredible chat when the time comes. I also believe that while alive we are given free will to use for our benefit or to our disadvantage. Also, I trust there is a path pre-organized for all of us but that no divine power will ever take our hand to guide us on it. We might never really discover it in a life time; we will either go parallel with it or in the opposite direction. And God is not to be blamed.
Regardless, even with funerals there are good times and those religions who celebrate death as if it were rebirth know why. Because death unites people and reminds them we are all passengers getting a ride on the train of life and that at some point we all get off to a stop. I saw a handful of people, all pretty much of the same age with my grandpa’s sister, giving an invaluable helping hand with the organization, but most importantly, in the middle of a work day for them, they all popped out of nowhere to come wave good bye to her as we were leaving. People who most likely had confrontations here and there, barely said hello or had nothing to share while she was still alive. But now somehow they all realized the loss, that yet again, one of them was gone. And it was the most inspiring moment of them all. Same happened when everyone gathered at home to pay their respects. On the street where my grandparents live most couples are in their 70 – 80s and 95% of them have lost a spouse. And on grandma’s call they all gathered, 14 people stashed against each other at a small table. Some I had not seen in years even though they live a few houses down the street, but once they were left alone they led a more secluded life. I missed seeing the people I grew up with rejoicing, remembering their youth and sharing memories on such a sad occasion.
I say respect traditions; be them crazy and irrational, but do not let them take your attention away from what’s really essential. I did not have half an hour to sit at this woman’s side and say a proper goodbye because someone always had to remind me about something I must do. I missed when they put the lid on to the coffin, I didn’t get a chance to take one last look at her. And while in church I was supposed to go say goodbye when some old lady stopped me to remind me I have to pay the priest. For fuck’s sake people, all we’ll be handled in due time. Let me do this how it needs to be done! So just keep that in mind and don’t let traditions, superstitions and the religious devotion of others stand in the way!
Before ending this small novel, I should probably apologize to the gentlemen for my very feminist approach to most of this entry. I apologize, but I cannot be sorry for something that seems literally unfair to me.
So, let me know of your traditions. I know people coming from different parts of the country have different customs to look after. I am interested to know the “sufferings” of others! Haha
MUAH and see you for the next entry.