I often write of the repressive effect that our culture has on creative and corrective processes through its emphasis on appearance. I remain convinced that our society’s insistence that we physically pose and posture perpetuates a lot of pain.
Still, I feel that there are moments when acting in a formal and precise manner can prove beneficial in a way no other kind of behavior can. I’ve read that ritual is characterized by thoughtful attention to movement, and very few words.
The Children’s Hospital of Akron Charity Ball is a major fund raiser and social event where I live, and this year I was invited to present my daughter, Jennie, as one of the debutants.
This event features the girls in wedding dresses, their presenters in white tie and tails, moving carefully down a long passage through two flowered arbors, pausing to bow deeply while a thousand people watch their every move. If this isn’t a ritual, I’ve never seen one. And it felt wonderful.
Jennie’s new favorite movie is Titantic, and we both saw it about the time of the Charity Ball. To me, the most compelling conflict was not between the ship and the iceberg, but between first class and steerage. The wealthy heroine (Kate Winslet) falls in love with an itinerant artist (Leonardo DiCaprio).
Winslet is especially taken with art, although this is not encouraged by her peers. Coincidentally, she loves Monet, and the floral theme for our Charity Ball was “Monet’s Garden.” Predictably, Leonardo shares her view, and they meet irresistibly here.
I often feel that today’s protocols for treatment ignore the rituals of care that we perform in an effort to acquire the profound and prolonged effect of which therapy is capable. With these thoughtful movements, we establish a connection that cannot be measured, but is certainly felt.
As I sat with the other presenters (mostly fathers) backstage, I was struck by the sudden and complete silence that descended over this previously jocular group at the moment the first debutant’s name was announced. We could feel the weight of our responsibility, and the expectation of our daughters. This was not a time to be creative or spontaneous. For the next few minutes, we were all in first class.
In the movie, Winslet is briefly convinced that her infatuation with Leonardo is entirely self-indulgent, and that it must be suppressed in favor of money and privilege. But then she sees in the elegant dining room another young girl admonished to sit erectly, in fact, to pose and posture, and she knows that she can no longer live like that. In the next scene, she returns to the artist. And I mean the artist within her, as well as the young man in steerage. From then on, she lives her life in this way.
I feel the same way whenever I see someone told to sit up straight, but for awhile recently I moved as if I were a knight, and Jennie a princess. In fact, we were told to imagine this, and it was easy.
I still feel that care and correction are largely creative acts, and that there is no great advantage in emphasizing appearance. But every once in awhile, some formal attire and careful movement can make our hearts soar, and waken us to something ancient within.