Each morning I rise from my bed slowly, leaving its warm softness for the joint-stiffening cold of my bedroom. I pull on the pair of comfortable old slacks I left lying across the chair the night before, slip into socks and slippers, and gather my soft, warm robe around me. I pick up my little dog and we make our way slowly down the stairs. I turn on one light in the living room, the soffit lighting in the kitchen, switch on the coffee, and take the dog outside. This time of year I am greeted with cold stillness -- usually it is still dark, with a deep blue sky and starlight. Some mornings hues of pale pink wash the eastern sky through the trees. There is a beauty at dawn no matter what time of year it is -- and it was especially lovely after our Thanksgiving snowfall this year. By the time I bring the dog back in, the aroma of coffee fills the kitchen, and I pour a huge mug, warming my hands on it as my day begins.
My early morning ritual is something so simple, yet without it, my day feels ungrounded somehow. We all have our rituals. Some are the insignificant ones that fill our days. Others are the rituals which follow us through the year -- the special holiday celebrations, family gatherings, summer vacations. Christmas rituals are on my mind as we head into December. I remember the long-ago traditions we created as our children were growing up -- the Saturday designated for our tree-cutting journey -- usually riding in a hay wagon to search the hills in bone-chilling cold for just the "right tree." Then coming home to decorate it together with Christmas carols playing in the background. Now, with the children grown, I decorate my own little artificial tree on Thanksgiving weekend, placing my much-loved decorations midst the white lights, and finishing it off with a cascade of pink lace ribbons. It is much more quiet than those long-ago years, but also a soothing ritual to me.
Our rituals change as our lives change. As a teenager I looked forward each day to a brief hour in the evening lying in our hammock, which was strung between two old pine trees, overlooking an empty field. Nothing helped soothe my teenage angst more than this time swinging gently in the hammock, surrounded by the silence of the field beside me -- time away from the competitive world of adolescence, where I could think my own thoughts, try to understand how and why I was somehow inclined to march to a different drummer, and to shed silent tears for the everyday heartbreaks of my life. And then, suddenly, a house was being built in that empty field, and my own private place disappeared into memory. My evening ritual was no more.
The mystery of rituals is that some people do not cherish them at all. They may enjoy the traditions of holidays, and vacations and family memories, but they do not recognize the everyday rituals that can bring so much peace and enjoyment to our lives. To some, a long walk after dinner may be purely for exercise; to the fortunate ones, it is a ritual which they look forward to -- time to linger, to look, to listen, to enjoy the sights and sounds of their neighborhoods. A trip to the bookstore, with its shelves of new books to explore is just a shopping trip to some; to others, it is a quiet ritual of searching the titles, choosing a book from the shelf, holding it in their hands -- savoring the feel and scent of the pages, choosing random sentences to read, deciding that "this is the one," and taking it to the counter with much anticipation of settling into a chair at home later for a cozy read.
Before I go to bed each night, I take my journal in hand and slowly choose the words that describe the day that has passed. How I love those quiet moments when I can sift through the events of the day and make some sense of them as I write. I finish writing, put down the book, place water and coffee into the pot for morning, slowly walk from room to room, closing curtains, turning off lights, and then walk upstairs to my bed, my sleepy old body anxious to snuggle under the quilts in the darkness. A ritual I treasure each night.
There have been times when I have waited anxiously for the results of medical tests, or worried about an illness. I have worried about dying and leaving my children and grandchildren. As I thought about the reality of death, I realized that it is not the trips I would like to take, or the parties I would like to attend, or the big moments I will miss that haunt me; it is the little daily rituals that I would miss the most -- those tiny little blessings that make each day, each month, and each year a joy to which I look forward. How sad for those who do not recognize the little joys that exist in everyday living. The blessing of rituals is indeed a gift to those of us who cherish them.