Rethinking Celebrations

The daughter of a friend had set her wedding date for this spring, but has postponed it til fall. If it were my decision to make, I would go ahead with the original wedding date — but have the celebration online, maybe with only immediate family members physically present.

Life goes on. Young couples ready to get married, start families and all should go ahead and get married, not wait. For that matter, same with old couples who are ready to get married. We shouldn’t assume that things will be “back to normal” at some future date. (And in fact, fall being hurricane season in this part of the country, I would not plan an event for that time of year anyway. Learned from experience.)

Am I saying we should forget about celebrations? No! An online event is still an event! In many ways it opens up possibilities: More people can attend. And there can be more room for heartfelt creativity in the tributes we make. You could send the happy couple a congratulatory meal by delivery after the wedding’s over; you could video a congratulatory performance of some kind, such as singing them a song.

And in-person celebrations aren’t gone for good; just for now. I do see this shutdown of events as a “correction”; an opportunity to rethink the mass long-distance “travel at the drop of a hat” to which many of us have become accustomed. So accustomed, in fact, that a person almost feels like a spoil-sport or a renegade for choosing not to travel across several states to attend a wedding, graduation, or other gathering. But if nothing else, I figure a young couple could use money, and at least part of the money I’d spend on travel and hotel, I could instead give as a gift.

I feel the same about graduations. Whatever we lose by not gathering in person, I think we make up for by saving travel footprint, time, and energy. And money (at least some of which is then freed up to be given as a gift if we choose). Northeastern University is holding its graduation online, reports Channel 10 Boston.

I feel bad for the hotels and event venues that are losing bookings. But the individuals who run those places, and the individuals who work there, are sure to devise their own creative strategies for earning a livelihood that does not depend on events or long-distance travel. (As just one example, a lot of my musician friends are live-streaming performances. Online art shows are happening as well.)

Even funerals are going online. This is not just a response to the Coronavirus; it’s actually a trend that’s emerged over the past decade or so, according to funeral industry experts. I like the idea. We have all this great telecommunication technology and broadband infrastructure; what better use for it than to bring more people together, while taking a load off of people’s schedules and wallets, not to mention Earth’s ecosystems!

Yes, of course telecommunications has an eco footprint. Servers use quite a bit of electricity. But I think that if you add up all the costs of a physical gathering, you come out ahead with a virtual celebration. The present circumstances invite us to really push the envelope of what it means to have the best of both worlds: We get to (are forced to) spend most of our time at home. And at the same time, thanks to technology, we also get to spend time gathered in each other’s living rooms, collapsing distance and time.

Further Reading:

Virus could change funerals; how we handle death (Daytona Beach News-Journal): Live-streaming funerals, and using social media as a gathering space for celebrating a loved one’s life, has become a growing trend over the past few years — and one that could continue to grow even after the virus panic passes, say experts quoted in the article.

Other examples: Sports events are a kind of celebration. They are starting to go television-only, with athletes playing to empty stadiums; see photos and report in Wired Magazine. (But then many have canceled their seasons entirely.) The Olympics might even get canceled — or maybe it’ll just be online/TV only! NASCAR has introduced simulator-based racing, which is televised and offers the excitement of crashes (without the blood) and familiar star racers.

Movie studios are starting to release films onto DVD and streaming at the same time as the theater release date (not that the theaters are open). Universal Studios was the first studio to do this, reports Vanity Fair.

Many churches I know are streaming their Sunday services. I just listened to my pastor, Rev. Kathy Tew Rickey of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Ormond Beach, on YouTube! Check out her sermon to hear some comforting words amid the pandemic — and to see a beautiful example of how a church can keep many of its programs going, and maintain a sense of family, via phone and online channels.

And finally, April 22, 2020, marks the 50th Earth Day — and the first-ever digital Earth Day. Visit EarthRise2020.org to register and to invite friends.

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