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Make New Traditions Self-Help Advice

Written by Jane Brooks

Traditions can successfully help you find focus and stability especially when you make them your own. Columnist Jane Brooks explains how.

To those who say tradition is pointless, I say, "Bah, humbug." Tradition provides focus and a sense of stability. Without traditions, life's colorful spectrum would be missing some significant hues.

It's tradition that eases the melancholy that settles over me a couple weeks before the Jewish high holy days. Every year, as surely as the leaves turn golden, the force of the emotional tidal wave never fails to stun me.
 
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Its origin isn't hard to understand. Fall is the season when Jews remember their loved ones by visiting the cemetery and reciting prayers. Tradition calls for placing a stone on the grave to show you've been there. It wasn't until I made this tradition my own, however, that I fully experienced its power.
 
Once, when my children were younger, we reached my parents' gravesite, only to realize that we had forgotten to bring stones. We scattered, as though on a treasure hunt, searching for something more substantial than the pieces of gravel in the road.
 
Thus began a family tradition. Throughout the year, wherever we went, we'd collect stones so that come autumn, we could place them on the graves. It was a lovely way to remember my father, who loved to travel but couldn't convince my mother to leave home very often.
 
Through the years we've gathered stones from Jerusalem, Florence, Santa Fe, Tucson, and from beaches in Maine, New Jersey, New Hampshire, California, the Caribbean, and from Cape Breton in Nova Scotia.
 
In my first year as an empty nester I dreaded making the cemetery visit alone, so I put it off until the last possible day. Just as I was leaving my house, I remembered the pale smooth stones I gathered on the beach in La Jolla last summer. I spent the long ride to the cemetery lost in memories of that wonderful California visit.
 
Finally I stood alone reciting kaddish, the prayer for the dead. As I placed the stones on my parents' grave, I said softly, "Enjoy Southern California."
 
I drove home smiling with a mixture of relief and pleasure and hoping that my sons will continue the tradition in the very distant, far off future, that is.

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