Rituals & Celebrations
Sample Articles: To the Sea I Shall Return,
by Ellyn Ruthstrom
What Am I? By Jane Kaplan
Celebrating Bisexuality, by Wendy Curry
Also In This Issue:
To the Sea I Shall Return
by Ellyn Ruthstrom
One morning my father told us all at the breakfast table that the night
before my mother had sat straight up in bed - still sleeping - and had said
in a clear voice, "I come from the sea and to the sea I shall return." We
all laughed together about it but we knew something of it was true about
our mother. Thesea story always stayed with me and so when I go back to my
hometown I first stop at the beach to pick up some shells to then take to
my mother's grave which is about a mile from the shore. While at the beach,
I think of her, often repeating my dad's story to myself as I stroll the
high tide line for treasures. I know she was deeply connected to the water
and I feel that when I am there alone.
My mother's gravestone is an oblong gray stone sunken flat into the
with just her name and years of her life: Gail Ruthstrom 1933-1973. I put
the items I bring for her along the outline of the stone, nudging them into
the grassy edge so that when the lawnmower comes by they may be slightly
protected from the blades. I like to find evidence of the shells I've
brought before, but sometimes the gap in time is several months and there
are no signs of my offerings. Sometimes I have to find the stone beneath
the snow and I brush it clean before leaving my gifts. I take my time to
tell her what I need to at that moment and then I go home.
I am a graveyard wanderer from way back; it's somewhat of a family trait.
My mother's father often wrote about graves in his newspaper column and
photographed hundreds of them for historical articles. My best friend was
Brenda in junior high and she lived across the street from the same
graveyard my mother is now buried in. After school we would take her dog
and her younger siblings and go play in there for hours. Hide and seek,
freeze tag, leapfrog over the stones - it seemed a vast and varied
Now I am the one with the camera who stops to shoot an interesting stone
face. Youthful deaths, multiple spouses, death from childbirth, epidemics
wiping out entire families, the women who never married, and even the ones
who reach uncommon ages of 70 or 80. So many stories to be gleaned from
very few words etched on stone.
And I think of my mother's simple stone, how little it says about her.
the time of her death my father and her parents could not deal well with
her loss and they had chosen the most basic stone to mark her grave. My
sister and I at different times had wanted to find out if it was possible
to change the stone, but discovered the task would be exorbitantly
expensive. We decided it wasn't worth it.
But several years ago, on the twentieth anniversary of my mother's death
planted a tree in my mother's honor at my sister's house. My sister,
brother, father, his partner, my grandparents, and my uncle and aunt all
gathered around the new tree and we shared some thoughts about my mother. I
read a poem I had written about her, my grandfather spoke of the tremendous
loss he still felt for his daughter, and my sister talked about why she
wanted to plant the tree in a place the family would be connected to for a
long time. We wept together, acknowledging the common pain we had all
carried on our own for two decades.
I continue to make my sandy sojourns to bring my mother her shells and
stones. I know that I do not need to do this for her; I'm sure she has
returned to the sea that called her in her dreams so many years ago. But as
they say about funerals, they are more for the living than for the dead.
What Am I?
By Jane Kaplan
I am Catholic by birth, Jewish by choice, but I'm really more agnostic
nature. On top of that, I was a religion major in college, giving me plenty
of food for thought in the religious wranglings that go on in my brain from
time to time. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.
This grappling tendency of mine - as Gaugin aptly phrased it: Where
come from? What are we? Where are we going? - is deeply a part of me,
rooted in my first memories. I could be a case study for Jung's assertion
that "religion is incontestably one of the earliest and most universal
activities of the human mind." Unfortunately, my religion was chosen for me
and took the form of so much dogma rather than the fluid journey I needed
to help me find whatever it was I was looking for.
Where do I come from?
I was raised just a generation away from incense burning in churches
the words spoken were only from the old country, where the priests were as
venerated as God. My great-grandparents did not speak English at all and,
outside of my parents' house, it seemed like everyone in my extended family
only sporadically did. It was clear that we weren't just Catholic; we were
On Sundays and most other Holy Days, my family attended Mass - there
just no question about it. My dad was a founder of the parish in my small
hometown, and he eventually became a deacon, about as close as you can get
to being a priest while still being allowed to have sex. We always shared a
bond over religion until I broke the faith and converted. On my wedding
day, after a ceremony held in Boston's largest Reform Jewish temple, a
ceremony officiated by two rabbis and permeated by every traditional symbol
of Judaism, my dad told one of my friends that of course he wishes that I
will someday return to my "religion of origin".
I don't know that I ever truly left my religion of origin, I don't know
that I ever really could. The memories, the patterns repeated over and over
are indelibly marked inside me.
Every Christmas Eve while I was growing up, both sides of my family
gather around my grandmother's small kitchen table for cardboard dry
communion wafer and some of the most hideous tasting food and drink you
could possibly imagine. But I loved it, every minute of it, god knows why.
I ignored the cramped quarters and the uncomfortable dress-up clothes, the
obligatory visits to scary alcoholic relatives upstairs, the long stretches
of time with nothing much to do, the ridiculousness of my grandmother's
practical Christmas gifts. I was there for the comfort and curiosity of it
all, for my family from both sides gathered together, for the spark of
grownup conversation that I only partly understood, for the strange mix of
personalities. It was always a very boisterous gathering, due to the number
of people, due to their clashing styles - Baci (my grandmother) and Aunt
Jane constantly bickering back and forth, Uncle Clement loudly discussing
sports with my brother, my father and mother usually engaged in one or
another of the conversations flipping between Polish and English, my
grandfather sitting quietly, surveying the scene with a calm Buddha smile
on his face. My sister usually sulked around, bored, but I thought there
was always something exciting going on. One year, a pot on the stove caught
fire, leaving Baci and Aunt Jane in utter bumping-into-each-other panic
until my level-headed dad emerged from the pantry and poured baking soda
over the flames to save the day. I don't think the smile ever left my
grandfather's face as he said "Oh my!" I'm not sure which portion of the
meal we went without that night, but I'm sure Baci and Aunt Jane continued
to bicker about it all night.
What am I?
I still miss Christmas Eve, long after I abandoned Catholicism and put
Christianity aside, long after I chose Judaism - chose Judaism because it
was like Christianity but was not Christianity - Jesus was, after all, a
Jew. Christmas Eve was a constant in the shifting sands of my life. I
think we as human beings need such things in our lives, things to hold on
to, things to share with others, things to brand us as one community or
another. Every Friday night since my kids were born, we have lit and
blessed the Shabbat candles, and ever since Sophie and Gavi were old enough
to understand, we have told them how Jews around the world do the same
thing, hoping to instill in them this : tradition. The children's books we
have - books on Hanukah, Passover, Shabbat - shape religious identity in
that same way: We are Jews because of what we do.
I am divorced now, and I grapple all the more with my beliefs. Each
when I am with my kids, I still sing to them the Sh'ma, a prayer that
proclaims God is One. I struggle to withhold this from them. How can I say
this prayer? How can I say that God is One when I don't even know there is
a God to be One? Each custom is scrutinized for an alignment of the act
with its meaning. I steadfastly refuse to acknowledge Hanukah as a
significant holiday, citing historical accuracy: Why do we give gifts? The
Maccabees did not give gifts, they killed people and burned oil in lamps to
purify their temple. There were no Wise Men.
But how can I deny my children these things? These are my battles, not
theirs. It is more important now to be consistent, and to let the lessons
of critical thinking come bit by bit as they grow old enough to absorb the
impact. As for my own struggles, I don't know if it would be better for
them to see me practicing one faith without ambivalence, because that is
more easily defined and categorized. I don't know if my meanderings will
confuse them. But there is no one religion that fits me, I do not fit into
any one religion. That may be the way it should be, but I miss the
community. I miss doing what I do, knowing others all around the world are
doing the same thing. Perhaps I will find that again in something more
meaningful to me.
Where am I going?
By Wendy Curry
Celebrate Bisexuality Day (CBD) started out as a way to get bisexuals
together for something other than a protest or a support group. We were
looking for a way to unite with a positive message. "We are wonderful just
as we are!" That was the idea. So much so that I devoted a large part of
the last year working towards making the day a reality.
But, as the day got closer and my frustrations grew higher, I started
think about how I could best celebrate my sexuality - and I realized that
the best way I could honor it was with non-bisexuals. Don't get me wrong -
I love bisexuals. I devote most of my waking hours to them. But my
family-of-choice happens to be made up of mostly heterosexuals.
They aren't people I grew up with; we merged our families as adults.
Sanyu got married, I went to her kwanjula, as an honorary member of the
Buganda tribe (even though my ancestors are Irish and French). When Tendo,
Jr. was born, I was at the hospital. Sanyu wants me to be her godmother
and do the whole christening thang; I'll be there - even though I gave up
the Catholic church long ago. When St. Patrick's Day came around, Tendo,
Sr. was right there with me - drinking green beer. On my birthday, they
surprised me with a cake - and dyke presents.
I joke that CBD is "the closest thing Wendy has to a religious holiday"
and it's true. I'm no longer Catholic. Although, I respect many aspects of
the pagan and wicca religions, I don't follow either regularly enough to
feel entitled to their holidays.
The message of bisexuality - the idea that people are more than their
gender; that we accept all people, regardless of Kinsey scale rating; that
we embrace people regardless of age, weight, clothing, hair style, gender
expression, race, religion and actually celebrate our diversity - that
message is my gospel. I travel, I write, I do web sites - all to let people
know that the bisexual community will accept you, will let you be who you
wish to be, and will not expect you to fit in a neat little
CBD was an expression of that gospel. It gave me an opportunity
MY sexuality in words that I chose. Instead of defending my lack of
commitment to the gay community, or explaining my interest in other wimmin
to the straight community, I was able to proactively express my sexuality
and my love for this community.
It made sense that I'd celebrate this with Tendo, Sanyu, Birungi, and
rest; they are my family. We help each other celebrate our joys and get
through our sorrows.
In the morning, Birungi Jr. helped me hang my bi pride flag. We shared a
dinner and I talked about what the day means and why it's important. They
gave it every respect that I expect I'll give to Tendo, Jr.'s christening.
Because that's what families do.