A Duty or an Honor?
Those occasions when just being there can be a truly meaningful gesture
"We request the honor of your presence.”
Mostly this wording on invitations is exclusive to weddings and graduations — and June is the season for those celebrations. Yes, attendance can be both mandatory and elective, and you get to decide.
You can choose to oblige or not, considering all your duties, the demands on your time and what you have room in your schedule to accommodate. It is also important to know instinctively when you need to show up. Sometimes, even without any acknowledgment of whether or not you were there, your presence is not optional.
That is when showing up is the right thing to do.
If you are like me, the mounds of graduation party invitations have morphed into wedding invitations. Knowing anecdotally — from my sisters and brothers — how much literally goes into the logistics of putting on a wedding, I am thrilled to be on the lists.
I am also thrilled to attend many of these weddings for a buffet of reasons — the great food, the dancing, the laughter, seeing a couple full of love, respect and commitment, and, yes, having the opportunity to wear a festive outfit that would only be right for a summer wedding.
When my sons and nieces and nephews were younger, a slew of graduation parties was on the calendar every May and June — sometimes four, five, six and seven grads a season. The joy of attending those was not just in honoring the accomplishments of a diploma, but in celebrating and imagining the future. And yes, I admit, the great food coming off the grill.
Of course, sometimes you just can’t attend — work or other calendar conflicts prevail. But in the category of weddings, participating in the launch of a life partnership signals you are included in a sacred demonstration of love and hope for the future. It is possibly one of the most optimistic and intentionally joyful days of the bride and groom’s life. You can’t miss it.
Supposedly, life coach Tom Peters is responsible for the saying, “50 percent of success is just showing up,” a revision from the more absurd 80 percent offering. When applied to your professional life, just occupying space may well be half the battle. When applied to your personal life, it may be more than that.
In the case of offering condolences and also celebrating milestones of success, being there to express kindness and solidarity may be pretty close to the whole thing.
A friend recently told me about a co-worker’s horrific news of the death of her child. The circumstances were unrelated to the need she felt to attend the services. That she did not know the co-worker well at all, as they worked for a very large institution, did not lessen her desire to express sympathy and kindness. She was upset not everyone at her workplace felt the same.
“Sometimes you just go,” she told me.
The older I get, the more memorials and funerals I attend — for friends, friends’ spouses, parents, grandparents, relatives, and yes, so tragically, children. Sometimes the connection is removed, sometimes it is painfully close. But it is always an honor to salute a life and to offer a sense of shared humanity and vulnerability. And it takes priority.
Many of us can remember teachers taking attendance in grade school and high school. It gets looser in large university classes, but in smaller labs, professors take attendance. I know I did. Perfect attendance was rewarded in grade school with certificates. I never got one, by the way. And in high school and higher education, attendance can affect grading.
But it is through non-graded or untallied attendance that you show your unconditional support. Participating in a community’s show of celebration or condolence is a necessary and meaningful gesture, regardless of whether or not you were seen or heard at the event.
In June, I will be attending both a wedding and a memorial service. They will elicit different emotions, all genuine. It is not as if I feel forced to go, or that I have no choice whether to attend. It is because — to be authentic and honor those involved — I am choosing to attend.
Showing up willingly and expressing kindness for the person who can use the support — whether in a tragic moment or an exalted one — is an end in itself. You don’t even need to be noticed. You just need to be there.Edit Module