A Youtube video of a mom doing the “happy dance” after putting her children on the bus for the first day of school went viral this week. The school bus pulls up, the kids hop on, N’SYNC’s “Bye, Bye, Bye” is cued up, and the Framingham mother starts dancing wildly on the curb.
I think it resonates because it captures the swirl of emotions this time of year -- overjoyed, wistful, excited, anxious. Sure, this mom may have gone back into her house and poured herself an Irish coffee to celebrate her renewed freedom but we can laugh at her exuberance because that’s likely not what happened. She probably took a moment to reflect on the fleeting nature of childhood and the joys of unscheduled time with her family over the summer. And then poured herself that drink.
Whether you found yourself weeping, leaping for joy, or experiencing a combination of emotions, we tend to have mixed feelings about the return of the fall routine. So long mid-afternoon margaritas, hello late-afternoon homework harangue. Good bye beach umbrellas, hello alarm clocks.
There’s just something in the air that changes the whole tenor of our being once the calendar flips to September and it can be a jarring transition. Whether or not you have school-aged children at home, no one is immune to the post-Labor Day metamorphosis from lazy to crazy.
The reality is that we both fear and crave routine. At one level it pushes against our innate Jack Kerouac-esque wanderlust. If we’re tied to the routine of our daily lives and responsibilities, how can we go on that spur of the moment road trip to Atlantic City? Then again, how would we explain said trip to our boss, spouse, children, et al?
Yet, routine orders the chaos of life and provides comfort in the midst of that which we cannot control. And there is a lot we can’t control in life.
This is the reason so many are drawn to faiths that embrace the liturgical tradition. There is comfort in the routine of worship that speaks to the soul. While there are seasonal and musical changes and different messages depending on the sacred readings, the structure of the service itself doesn’t vary from week to week. Parishioners know what’s coming; there’s a liturgical arc to everything that happens. While some find this “boring” or “rote,” those who embrace the liturgical tradition find that the divine experience transcends words and meets worshippers in the familiarity of the liturgy.
Many congregations hold post-Labor Day services titled “Back to Church” Sunday or “Homecoming Sunday.” Some even call it “Rally Sunday,” which to me always sounds like a demolition derby will be involved. Here at St. John’s in Hingham, we do something similar on the weekend after Labor Day -- the choir returns, Church School kicks off, we have a barbecue after church, and our Saturday 5:00 pm service starts up again that weekend. It’s all a recognition that many of us have gotten out of the routine and are seeking to get back into it.
Of course when it comes to the tension between freedom and routine, the proverbial grass is always greener. In the midst of routine we seek freedom and in the midst of freedom we crave routine. When we’re mired in the rut of being over-scheduled we want to toss our iPhone into Hingham Harbor and fly to “St. Somewhere.” Yet when the hot, humid days of late August start piling up, we dream about having a plan on a crisp fall day.
The solution is to enjoy each moment as it comes without looking ahead or behind. Living in the present is an ongoing spiritual challenge but it’s one that we can engage right here right now. So jump on in! It’s time.
The only answer that makes sense is: "Damned if you do...damned if you don't." The ones who were frothing at the mouth about moving to a summer schedule are now murmuring (Oh ! You wretched Israelites coming out of a 400 year sojourn (?) in Egypt !) in quite distinct undertones about having finally gotten used to the summer schedule only to be forced to go back to the "old" schedule. Six in one hand and half a dozen in the other. I just go with the flow and never make waves...well, hardly ever.
I, for one, quite love routine (and find the image of the celebrating mom hilarious, even though I don't have kids myself). I'm unsure, though, about the way the Church bends to the beginning of the academic year as though it's its beginning, too. Thank you for the challenge of presence, though; that's definitely one of which I need to be reminded often.
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