The morning was rainy, but as the guests began to arrive, the sun came out. Maise was very excited. She was donning a skirt she had made for the occasion, along with a headdress her auntie had made. We had set up a fire circle with a threshold that led to the path to Maise’s sit spot. Outside of the circle was an altar, which held some of Maise’s artwork, books she has enjoyed, and a picture of her with our beloved dog Ira, who passed away several years ago.
When all of the guests arrived (there were about fifteen), we gathered around the fire. Our friend Zach, who would be facilitating the ceremony, suggested a game where everyone in the circle moved into birth order without speaking. Zach then started the ritual:
“Today we are here to honor the fact that Maise is growing up and we are here to celebrate the ways she is and will continue to help her friends, family and community.
Before we go further…we’ll take a moment to acknowledge the life all around us…pause……as well as the people who built this house and the people who have lived here in the past. And loved ones who cannot be here today.
As it was explained to Maise, this ceremony is like the hallway to the next room of her life. She is now ready for this new room. In this new room she will continue to grow in size and in her influence on those around her. She can go back and visit the old room, but she can’t stay there again.”
At this point, Maise was asked to look around the circle and notice where she fell. Her eyes trained the few little ones to one side, continuing all the way around the circle to the elders sitting in chairs. After some sing-along, blessings were given to Maise around the circle before she was escorted down the “hallway.” When we arrived at her chosen spot in the woods, I showed her a special picture of her when she was a year-and-a-half old. I talked about how, in this photo, I could see that the eyes were her eyes, but the big difference now is that people need her help and she needs to be ready to provide it. I was struck with how readily accepting she was. As I went back down out of the woods to the fire circle she said, “I love you Dad,” in a firm, reassuring way. Before I knew it, she was helping me through her ritual.
Next, my wife Heather went up to the sit spot. Reportedly when she arrived, Maise was singing and building fairy houses. Heather presented her with nine competencies in the form of nine glass beads that she was to string upon a necklace. These included responsibilities around self-care, household chores, and her continued support at school of developmentally disabled peers.
After my wife returned to the circle, we gave Maise some time to string the beads and reflect. By the time I returned back up to her spot, she was back to singing and building, while proudly wearing her necklace. I spied her for a while and took great joy in watching her. She looked like a fairy herself.
As we returned to the circle I told her she should walk around it several times so the people could appreciate the new Maise. She asked how many times, and I left that up to her. I will never forget the feeling of walking back to the circle with her. Even with all of the anticipation, she held great strength.
When we arrived at the circle, the group, accompanied by drums, was singing:
It’s a bright moment
Maise is growing up
We’re all growing up
When I got into the circle, I began to accompany the group on guitar, and Maise, as she proudly announced at the end, walked around the circle 25 times.
After the chant, Zach drew the groups’ attention to Maise’s necklace and read the nine competencies. Then he drew our attention to the altar:
“The altar we see contains items that are special to Maise. They are items that represent where she is now and where she is coming from.
One of those items is a piece of art made when she was in preschool. This was a special time for Maise during her time in the old room, and her important teacher Kathy is here on this special day.
A couple of the items you see are reminders of the beloved dog Ira. Ira was a big part of the old room. Let’s take a moment and bring Ira to this circle.”
Maise took this literally and placed the picture of her and Ira at each of the cardinal directions for short periods so the group could see it.
Zach directed Maise to pass the necklace around for silent or verbal blessings. One of these blessings was a beautiful piece written and read by her preschool teacher.
After the necklace made the full rotation, Maise was reminded that the necklace should be cared for and only worn on special occasions. We concluded the ritual with hugs and went in to enjoy a potluck lunch, which included an apple crisp made exclusively by Maise.
What struck me the most about this ritual was how natural it seemed for Maise. While I had concerns and insecurities, it almost seemed like she was already familiar with the process. The next day Maise told me her dream from the previous night….