Tradition

There’s something about tradition….something comforting, something satisfying.  It’s a feel good moment that you’ve carried on something important into the future.  It’s a way of belonging.

I thought about tradition yesterday as I sailed through Boka Bay.  Boka Bay is a picturesque fjord that winds its way from the bottom of the Adriatic Sea to the heart of Kotor, Montenegro.  The town is steeped in maritime tradition and was a strategic port in the Mediterranean throughout the ages.  Even today, as this gem of a town at the base of Lovcen Mountain greets the 21st century more as a tourist destination than maritime stronghold, some rituals remain fast.

montenegro

the 28 km Boka Bay where tradition still lives

As we glide up the fjord on a magnificent 600 ft sailing ship some 28 kilometers towards Kotor, we pass Tivat bay and the channel begins to narrow.  The narrowest part, called the Verige, was the historical point where the fjord was chained.  A large chain was placed under the water to “trip” any enemy vessels trying to reach Kotor.  Today, the chain does not exist and the gap now feels even narrower as ferries bring cars back and forth from headland to headland, bringing people together instead of holding them apart.

Once we slip past the Verige, we arrive in front of the coastal town of Perast, an ancient village of seafaring people and captain’s palaces.  We prepare for a 90 degree turn to starboard to continue up the fjord a few more kilometers toward Kotor.  It is here that I feel the strong pull of centuries old ritual.  Even though I am sailing past in a modern cruising ship, we follow the old rules.  As the ship passes, we sound our horn numerous times in greeting.  The sound reverberates off the surrounding mountains echoing for long moments.  It feels powerful and it has the ability to bring out the town.  From every occupied ancient stone home the shutters fly open and the Montenegrians throw their hands in the air.  Both arms wave back and forth in reciprocal welcome.  It is custom to wave a towel in greeting as well.  And all on board do the same, we wave and wave and wave, both wanting to be the last with their arms in the air.

Suddenly, we hear the church bells of Perast ringing signaling our arrival, a friendly ship returning.  They ring long and loud with cheerful intentions. Now everyone in the entire bay knows of the arrival of our ship.  We sail past two small islands, one with the church and the other with the monastery and cemetery.  There is great tradition and history on these tiny islets as well.  Once again, the ship bellows its horn in greeting and it seems just when the chimes from church bells of Perast fade from our ears, the island church bells takes up the charge.  We continue to be serenaded until our arms ache from waving and we feel a great connection to the people of this small village we have never met.

This age old tradition has been a bridge for us to the people of Montenegro.  We are still sailing up the fjord and are preparing to cast our lines ashore but we already feel a connection and a sense of belonging to the country.  We feel welcome and happy without yet setting foot on the shore.

I believe that traditions have an important place in our lives for this very reason.  They give us a sense of continuity and of place and of connection. Are there traditions in your life that are important to you and that give you this?  Are there lost traditions that you want to re-instate?

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