I’m never really opposed to a good party—sweet and savory finger foods, a drink in hand and usually just enough awkwardness (at least initially) to keep my self-awareness piqued. What’s not to love!? My social skills are typically adequate enough to send me cruising through a party pretty smoothly.
For me, however, the difficulty comes in celebrating. I’ve only recently come to know the difference.
I suppose it’s not terribly surprising that the first two weeks of my sabbatical led me here, to celebration. After taking the time for some deep self-reflection during week one, immediately followed by experiencing the rest, rejuvenation and clarity of week two, it seems as if I was subconsciously preparing myself to celebrate well in week three.
Although the word often evokes playful and positive emotions, not every part of celebration feels good. It’s vulnerable and risky and bold, usually in a “bitter and sweet” sort of way. Celebrating requires presence. Many people can sort of breeze through a party, but to celebrate well you have to show up more than just physically.
When we celebrate an event, it’s one way of saying, “I did this!” Or, more accurately, it’s saying, “We did this!” because there are very few things we do without the help or support of at least one other person. So we toast, “To us doing this!” and, in doing so, we acknowledge all that is wrapped up in the “this.” We name what was difficult, empowering, painful, fun, hilarious and memorable in the journey of [insert whatever it is we’re celebrating].
So, during this third week of January I celebrated my graduation from graduate school, 7 months after the fact. What’s the reasonable time frame for celebrating events, anyway? And who gets to set those standards? Well, in my opinion, each of us do. I didn’t have the time or energy to celebrate it in the moment, so instead of doing myself the disservice of scrapping a celebration for something so monumental, I just held off on it until I was ready. Now feeling well-rested and with time off to spare, I considered myself as ready as I’ll ever be.
Immediately, I was reminded that I’m not so great at throwing parties. I don’t turn my house into a 3D Pinterest board; I don’t even use matching dishes. But I’m not looking to throw a party, I’m looking to celebrate a “We did it!” moment with my community. So my friend puts on a pot of chili and I do a quick wipe-down of the bathroom sink, get out a couple bottles of wine, open the front door and watch many of the faces that have accompanied me on my journey through graduate school begin to fill my mostly undecorated living room. We eat sweet and savory foods, drink in hand, while mingling casually, and it all feels very party-like.
Soon, however, we pause, and I ambivalently begin to speak. I share what was difficult, empowering, painful, fun, hilarious and memorable in my two years of grad school. Not every moment, of course, but a “highlight reel,” if you will. There are some tears, some long pauses, some laughter. At the end, we toast to me getting my master’s degree (to us getting my master’s degree), and I thank those faces who were with me along the way.
It’s more work to celebrate something than it is to party for something, yet it is so much more honoring of the journey that I (we) completed. It is a way of saying, that journey happened. We did it. Let us gather, let us pause, let us toast.
Now, onto the next great adventure.
What happenings in your life deserve to be marked by celebration? They may not all be “good feeling” events, such as a graduation or another trip around the sun. Maybe you courageously ended an unhealthy relationship or used your voice well and stood up for yourself when someone was belittling you. No event is too small to celebrate; go to coffee with a friend and clink your coffee cups to your “I/we did it!” moment or invite a large group over to collectively mark a career change, your defeat of an illness or the anniversary of fill in the blank.
Maybe you never had the chance to celebrate your graduation. It may have happened several years ago, but it still happened; write up some invitations and celebrate well!