Ritus-Challengius Fret

I suffer from several, self-diagnosed maladies. In addition to No-a-ti-tis, I am afflicted with Ritus-Challengius (R-C), which is characterized by a neurotic avoidance of rituals and ceremonies where I am the center of attention. I’m also directionally dysfunctional, but that is fodder for another post… now where was I?

I’m comfortable speaking publicly, happy to mingle and munch at other people’s celebrations if it has meaning for them but I am loathe to be at the center of such rituals. Sincerely – I know it’s weird, but it’s true. I’m delighted to celebrate with and for others who have a more normal view of life’s passages as long as they don’t return the favor.

Wedding – never had a ‘real’ one – although both marriages were legally sanctioned, just like the divorce that separated them.  Bat Mitzvah – I’d promised my dad on his deathbed, had to go through with that one – but left my own party early.  Poor form, I know – but all of those toasts … and the palpable absence of my father dancing with me at the festivities the carrot we’d talked about often while he was whacked with chemo’s stick was very stressful. I went to a friend’s house for a sort of after party where I sat and cried.

Ah, good times.

How did I catch R-C?  I’m not sure but for most of my adult life I’ve squirmed at the mere thought of being the center of attention, especially during a ceremony where I’m not tasked with doing – speaking, presenting, doing a pathetic jig even – something to deserve all those eyes on me.  I vaguely remember hiding in a shower at my sixth birthday party when my guests arrived.  At this same party, my oldest friend – aka “Eleanor” on in this blog — threw up, the result of the car ride to the party.  She retells this story often.  Could this be the genesis of my disorder?

Or, is it genetic?  My mother doesn’t make a fuss over her birthday – her friends fête her annually but in a low-key, don’t-strain-the-heart sorta way.  And she didn’t have a proper wedding – at least to my dad who was round two; they married in a Rabbi’s study, my mother wearing a simple suit.  I remember planning a surprise birthday party for her when I was about eight.  Thinking that someone had tipped her off, I came clean a couple of days before the event,  “sorry blank (I’m a long way from eight) told you about your party”.  She was not happy but appalled by the thought.  “What if I wasn’t fit to be seen by people?” my mother said in horror. Later that week, she feigned surprise as she greeted her guests, coiffed to perfection.

Maybe it is my mother – after all, Dr. Freud, isn’t everything a mother’s fault?  My party planning on her behalf did not delight her.  And, she was never good with puke, so may not have been the most patient with my frothing friend at that fateful sixth birthday party.

But enough with depth, it’s highly overrated.  However it began – sure, parents can give you issues, but it is our choice whether or not we subscribe here I am, alive, well and avoiding the bulls eye of rituals whenever possible.
Since I’m done with most rituals that this life requires – and don’t believe I’ll be in a state to judge my funeral – I’m left with only one annual hurdle; the yearly hell of celebrating my birthday.

For the past few years, I’ve celebrated my birthday by taking a couple of close girlfriends to a restaurant of my choosing where they don’t give me presents, I pick up the check and if ‘Happy Birthday’ is uttered with music, it is done quickly, by wait staff.  Last year was even better than that – I was on a plane to Mexico with my husband, no kids, no cakes – just Virgin America’s awesome video library and me.  

But not this year, because this is a birthday with a zero… attention had to be paid. 

People were talking…. to my husband about how my entry into the realm of AARP should be handled. I shuddered. I had to plan a public celebration of my half-century mark– lest I be confronted with the most dreaded ceremony of all… a surprise party…. My ex-husband threw me a surprise party – ONCE – we were half an hour late to the ‘party’, held at our NYC apartment… and the guests included my über punctual then boss…. Oh those many signs we ignore when young and in love.

I decided to throw myself a 50th birthday cocktail party — shockingly, when I’m uncomfortable, I turn controlling — lest those who love me conspire to make my 50th birthday an actual ritual-like, lavish affair which I did not plan, pay for and might include the traditional singing of “Happy Birthday” while I stood by a cake. The mere mental image made me anxious.

First, there was the Evite – Amy’s L: The ½ Century Mark.  L is the Roman symbol for 50 – and the first letter of what I am about rituals.  Then there was the edict,  ‘thou shalt not offend’. So, I invited folks from many parts of my life and ended up with a guest list of 220. I did not stress, so confident was I that most would already be on vacation.  Then the acceptances came – and kept coming.

Seriously? When I was a wee one, and no one was around to acknowledge my summer birthday – except when we sickened them by driving them to an activity – I might’ve, possibly enjoyed an activity-filled celebration.  But now, as I stared at the growing list of those responding, “Be there with Botox and Booze” I started to panic thinking that ceremony could not be avoided.  Why weren’t more people “Drinking Elsewhere” or willing to ‘Try to Totter Over”

“I could make a very quick toast,” my husband offered tentatively, lest I combust spontaneously, “if you want to make it a bit birthday-ish.”

“Nah, I’ll stick with denial – and wine. We’ll have lots and lots of wine, ” I responded calmly.  Hmm… maybe growth is possible. 

So I planned, organized and actually completed those long overdue projects around the house – parties are a good motivator for this.  The house looked good.  The stress killed my appetite so I looked a little better.

When my car would not respond to the pressure on the gas pedal as the stoplight turned from red to green the day before The Big L I thought, “if I were in an accident, I’d have to cancel the party.”

Maybe there isn’t such a state as good crazy.

But there wasn’t an accident – there was a tow truck but that is fodder for another post – and there was a loaner vehicle, in which I picked up the Eleanor who flew in for the day, and ran errands for the family who were around for the party too.

Saturday came, and so did the friends. The booze –and the food too, of course – were bountiful and yummy. And holding Chardonnay’s hand while people I was delighted to see gave me warm smiles and hugs I was surprised to find myself glad to be at my birthday party.

There was no cake, no singing – you can’t teach an old dog that many new tricks – just people from my different worlds – many of whom were connected to each other independently of me – gathered together to in celebration of the blessing that we are to each other.  I had a great time and will treasure the beautiful birthday cards forever – in private.

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