8.18.2006,6:16 PM
Dead Glove Ceremony

What separates humans from animals? What makes us so special in our own eyes? Other than a complex verbal language, animals also have a language, they eat, sleep, give birth and die, compete, fight and flee. Men strut like peacocks and women pick and choose their mates. But do animals have holidays? Do they have celebrations, weddings, graduations, funerals, farewell parties and Christmas? What is this human need for ceremony, for rites of passage, for ritual?

I’ve pondered this question as long as I can remember; watching, observing, quizzically, asking “Why?” Other than the more common response of bewilderment at my inquiries, a few honestly replied that they didn’t know.

“I don’t know. We’ve just always done it this way.”

Don’t you ever wonder why?

“Well, no. Why would I?”

This inquiry can spawn several related questions, as if the original one travels a path tripping over question stones and wondering if it will ever arrive at an answer. Or get stuck on a big stone. Whoops, tripped on that one!

One such stone overturned is “Do we need ritual?”

Many social, cultural and psychological explanations can be offered to defend ritual and ceremony. Perhaps ritual and ceremony conveyed an evolutionary advantage in creating cohesion amongst individuals to form groups. Groups have a survival advantage over individuals, and groups survived to form our civilization.

Ceremony helps people adjust to change, express love or grief, establish relationships, and recognize achievements. They close psychological chapters, welcome others into life or a family, or passage from pubescence to adulthood. They can be also be used to announce intentions, to express loyalty, and to reinforce a sense of identity. Communal celebration is rich in ritual and ceremony.

The most long-lived, wide-reaching and strongest embodiment of ritual and ceremony is religion. It serves all the functions mentioned above. It has prevailed for centuries, playing a strong role in the growth of our civilization, and killing millions. But that’s for another post and not destined for this audience.

What does this have to do with motorcycles? Good question. Let’s see if I can tie this in right.

Many things we do involve some type of ritual or ceremony. They must have some redeeming qualities; otherwise we wouldn’t be such ritualistic animals. While I question (and avoid) those most celebrated and observed by the masses, such as Christmas, I involve myself in selected rituals or ceremonies. However, more as an observer than a devotee.

Just as athletes, artists, scientists, teachers and others have rituals and ceremony, so do motorcycle riders. Associated with types of riding or types of bikes, most riders discover a bond with other riders to form small and large groups of riders. The sports bikes, cruisers, endurance, adventure riders; we all share a common interest that sometimes diffuses into more specific similarities.

For instance, the most notorious event, a ritual of massive proportion, is the gathering at Sturgis, South Dakota. Bikers from all models, makes, colors and ages converge upon the small sleepy town to participate in this ceremony of biking. For some, it is an annual ritual. Most riders of Harley Davidson bikes tout the brand name on their bikes, clothes, living room furniture, their underwear, and sometimes the legendary attitude. The ceremonies associated with HDs are local, regional and national gatherings; they’re everywhere. Other bike brands have similar associated paraphernalia and gatherings. It’s all ceremony and ritual.

Since we are animals, an innate element of varying degrees exists between the bike groups. That trait is apparent at any level of our culture and society: we are competitive creatures as well as gregarious. So the cruiser riders ridicule the sport bike riders, who disparage the cruiser riders, and the bike world merrily turns like any other. All bike riders are the object of denigration and belittling by non-bike riders. We all share that cross to bear.

I, too, admittedly participate in some ritual surrounding riding a bike. I enjoy sharing my interests with other riders, as well as the occasional ride. Heck, some of us combine it with food: we meet every Tuesday night to eat, chat, and laugh. My own private ritual is to ride somewhere, anywhere, for ice cream on Sundays. It’s well known that I bike for ice cream. Others bike for pie.

While pondering the philosophical question of ritual and ceremony the day I put my hand through my leather left-hand riding glove, I decided I was going to create my own ceremony: bury the worn-out gloves. I was sad to see these gloves wear out. I liked how they fit and gripped the bars. But they wore out, literally tearing at the bottom band and along several fingers when I pulled them over my hand that morning. I did notice that the leather palm and fingers were now stiff like the rawhide bone you give your dog to chew. Salty sweat does strange things to thin leather.

Remembering the day in the gym when I put my first 45-lb plates on the bar for bench presses, I birthed an idea. My powerlifting training partner at the time, Kate, made a ceremony out of it, much to my embarrassment. Complete with presenting me with a pair of earrings: a silver dragon curled around a black obsidian disc with a hole in the middle. The large black disc represented a 45-lb plate. (They’re heavy as hell to wear, too.)

I’m going to bury my glove. It will be a ceremonial burial. Complete with pictures to document it. Of course, it will be a bit difficult with the ground hard as cement in this drought. So the glove has been placed in a box, like a coffin. I had considered doing an autopsy, but didn’t see the need; it died of natural causes.

I think I will perform this ceremony, the Passing of the Glove, right before I go for an Ice Cream Ride on a Sunday. Thus, the ritual of passage will be complete.

So stay tuned for the celebration and documentation of the Glove Burial Ceremony, when the dead glove gives back to the earth from which it came in a long round-about way.

The new gloves are pretty cool, by the way.

posted by Macrobe
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