Sunday, February 20, 2005


This story was triggered by a man I saw doing something and then again, almost a year later. There had been time that had elapsed, yet the ritual he performed hadn’t changed.

Somewhere on a street in South-Kensington, there’s a car that’s always parked in the same spot. It’s an old Escort Estate, I’d say from the early Seventies. In the back there’s a cool box, as though it’s waiting to go off for a nice drive in the country. On the back seat you see old, yellow magazines from the Sixties. A clue that it never, or almost never, moves from its place is that there is also a can of touch up paint in the back. And apart from the fact that the car has been touched up here and there, it looks like it just came from the dealer. Every once in a while, a man in his late sixties, perhaps even early seventies, gets in. He’s dressed in a blazer and tie, but distinctly from the same era as the production date of the car. So are his glasses. After he gets in, he starts the engine, lets it run for a few minutes. After that, he switches it off, gets out, locks it and leaves.

As said, I saw it happen twice, with quite a long interval between it. Others informed me that it happened more frequently. It set off my imagination. Why did he do this? It was almost as if he was keeping everything in perfect order for the moment somebody came back to make the Sunday drive that the car seemed so well equipped for to make.

Would his wife have died? The pointed-ness and dignity with which he performed the ritual made me think that in a way, for whatever reason he was doing it, he was also doing it because it served as way to retain something that was already long gone. And to reconnect to that. Or hold on to it. Commemorate it.

When I thought about this, it dawned upon me that each and everyone of us has rituals we cling to, individually or as a group, for various reasons.

I think that we are, most of the time, unaware of the rituals we have, share and develop throughout life. Very often, we clash violently with our surroundings. That is to say, if we haven’t been so numbed that we even fail to see that we clash and are caught by surprise by an event that makes a big impact on our lives.

You have a huge argument with your boss and almost get fired. Initially you fail to see why. Your partner explodes at something you say or do. In first instance you can only look at this with disbelief. Almost as if you are watching a movie, rather than being part of what is unfolding at the moment itself. Another thing is that you cannot imagine that there is a good reason for blowing up about something as trivial as this. You suppress feeling of anger, bewilderment and wonder at how this came about and look for ways to appease this. Sometimes you succeed, at others, you don’t. You get drawn in and the room seems to burst with volcanic activity.
The interesting question here is of course, what the definition of success on this one is.

What rituals do you see in your life?
In the organisation you work in? Do they contribute to development or do they hold it back?