Last week was a joyous, weeklong celebration, with my expanding family. It began with a wedding sweat lodge ceremony for my daughter Tara, and her fiancé, Philly. It was here, that we met my in-laws and Philly’s 17-year-old daughter for the first time. As we entered the lodge, each of us was “smudged” or purified with fragrant cedar smoke, waved over us with an eagle feather.

Inside the lodge, 20 of us squeezed in, from age 9 to 69, we represented three generations of immediate family. We brought with us blessings and prayers of those who couldn’t come, and many who came before. Sitting together in the sacred space, with the people you love, and speaking from the heart, is an astounding way to connect with family. Such ceremonies provide the structure that breaks down the boundaries between individuals, and brings them together in community. Sweating, drumming, blessing, using sacraments, eating soul food, singing in many languages, are how we transmit our soul and values.

From the sacred grounds one night, to the stomping grounds the next, when we saw the Rap – Hip-Hop band the Black Eyed Peas. They performed in the newly renovated downtown Dodge Theater, where the sound level was several decibels above a Cape Canaveral rocket launching. It was the first time I ever attended a concert where I didn’t understand a single word (the single exception being a song entitled Bullshit, whose only lyric was repeated endlessly).
On the other hand my nine-year-old granddaughter knew the words to every song and dance during the entire concert. Fortunately somebody had the foresight to bring along ear plugs, so I spent my time on the couch in the skybox and watched my grandchildren dance while I drank Heineken’s and ate carrot cake. When the lights went down, I noticed that the kids don’t hold up lighters anymore, or those flexible fluorescent tubes, now audiences hold up their cell phones to provide the light. I’m thinking, I don’t care how we illuminate the darkness only that we celebrate and dance together.

The next night was an adults only, 40th birthday party for my son Max. It was held at our favorite family party place, called the Alwun House. It is the original alternative arts venue in Phoenix, located in the heart of the inner-city ( HYPERLINK “http://www.alwunhouse.org” www.alwunhouse.org). 100 beautiful people, resplendently costumed in the party’s gold and silver theme. They came dressed as Sultans, pimps, Chippendale dancers, Elvis Presley, Drag Queens, and an assortment of princesses wearing see-through costumes. The three-piece band alternated with a DJ, there was an open bar, gourmet sushi, shrimp cerviche, oozing chocolate desserts; it was an epicurean and visual extravaganza.

Midway into the evening, my daughters stood up and said, “we told you all no gifts, but I want to encourage you to make a contribution in Max’s honor to Rosie’s House. It’s a tuition-free music academy for children ages 5 to 18, and is the only organization in the United States that offers a full range of music lessons (including instruments) at no cost to underserved youth. Many public schools are no longer offering music programs, Rosie’s house believes in the power of music to build self-esteem, self-discipline and creative thinking (www.rosieshouse.org). It warmed my heart to see so many Boomers and Generation X’ers, share their privileged lifestyle.

The next morning at our goodbye brunch we ate all the ritual soul foods, New York bagels, Pacific Northwest alder-smoked salmon, chocolate covered halvah and rugelah. It was an unconscionable cholesterol overload, but I thought it worth it, carry me out this way and I’d say, this is how I want to go.

Expand your family, party in the good times, and when you’re in doubt, party somemore. Welcome others into your family, celebrate coming together, and feel the world get lighter.