Saturday, November 17, 2018

That annual January ritual returns

Folks do love a ritual.

There is an instinct in us, seen so clearly in babies and tots, that when something delights us, we want to do it again. And again. And again. Until the weight of repetition makes it no longer delightful and we become angry that it's just not the same. We see this in entertainment all the time, with big franchises like Star Wars or Harry Potter, whose oldest fans oft become their worst critics.

Looking to repeat the high of first love is always a doomed exploit, and most of us know this. But there's a more comfortable level of repetition that holds our institutions together, the "this worked once, so let's keep doing it." There's a comfort in regularity, and some things, like gravity and time, tend to function reliably well, and we can base our habits around them. There's no greater security than "If I do A, then B happens next."

But humans are not exactly as reliably the same as something gravity would seem to be. Generations shift. Our technology changes us. Our creative arts change us. And those who love the ritual will fight hard against those changes, carving out a pocket where their thing will survive, often with weird traditions that become a bit cartoonish over the years. Take the Kentucky Derby, for example. Horse racing is not nearly as popular as NASCAR at this point. Yet it has found its pocket, and has its one day of the year for big hats and mint juleps. Part of the ritual.

The annual members letter detailing the upcoming Baker Street Irregulars weekend arrived in inboxes this morning, an event that always makes me a bit philosophical. And it should, as the BSI's benevolent dictator often gets a little philosophical in the letter itself. I have long disagreed with him on a few points, but as I'm often reminded by others when I bring those points up, "It's his club."

The ritual goes on, though, and as the BSI dinner becomes something of a "Kentucky Derby" event for locals and those who can afford to find a place there, both in financial cost and being the the "appropriate" sort of person to merit an invitation, change comes slowly. "It takes a while to turn a train," as one wise soul once told me, and living in a place where a good many of our railroad tracks have been turned into hiking trails brings certain knowledge that sometimes trains don't turn. Some evolve into something else, while some, like the annual Polar Express, become a yearly novelty item.

Folks do love ritual, whether it's a religious service or a margarita on Cinco de Mayo. And watching them evolve takes a lot of patience, but it's kind of fascinating from a distance. Which, for some of us, is just a better vantage point.

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