The comfort of ritual

Every morning I do the same thing: I let the dogs out, push the brew button on the coffee maker, begin my day’s routine. Routine gives order and rhythm to my progress. Yet much of my routine is ordinary…just the regular steps required to get myself out the door in the morning.

Then there are the moments of my day that are about ritual. There is a subtle difference between routine and ritual in my mind. Both are words that describe repeated events. Yet “routine” captures the ordinary, “ritual” describes a more deliberate and elevated experience. Although commonly associated with religion, “ritual” can refer to any repeated behavior. For me, rituals represent choices that are about comfort, serenity, peace.

Lighting a candle at dinner, choosing soft music, brewing an evening cup of tea, reading something inspirational…these are all rituals in my day, small luxuries that soften the hard edges of life. One of the best ways to infuse a sense of serenity  is through scent. I have a special herbal soap that takes me (however briefly) to spa mode as I use it. One of my husband’s rituals is to light incense or a scented candle when he comes into the living room. Music can also contribute to ritual. My husband and I love classic Frank Sinatra and music of that era and frequently choose that genre of music to play during dinner. Or on a Saturday afternoon, the tunes may be classic rock and roll, Johnny Cash, Jack Johnson, or Southern rock …each type of music evoking a different mood, unique to the day.

Rituals can be simple, yet significant.  When my husband is home,  one of our favorite things is to enjoy a plate of fruit and cheese and a bottle of wine as we watch the sunset. Or we watch an evening sitcom with the dogs curled up beside us. Sometimes we look at each other and say, “this is the good stuff.”

Rituals slow me down, make me more contemplative. Rituals soothe me when I’m anxious, warm me when I’m chilled, and remind me that days are not meant to be just routine. There is a void in life that only the addition of ritual can fill.

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Baby giggles

My iPhone alerts me to an incoming text: my daughter Stephanie has sent a new photo of Riley, her six month old daughter and our first grandchild. There is an attached audio file. I listen and hear baby giggles, little belly laughs from Riley.

The next week Riley is jumping in her bouncing seat, flexing her legs and squealing with delight. She’s learning to have fun, discovering joy. I hear these little noises over the phone as Stephanie says “say hi to Gram.”

Riley was born in April, a few months before I turned 50. I admit, delighted as I was for Stephanie and Matt, her husband, to welcome this little one, I had a small, vain corner of my heart that was unsure of what this event would do to me. It would make me a grandmother, that much I knew. But would it jettison me into some next life phase that I wasn’t ready for? Would I suddenly BE a grandmother?

Like some other milestones I’ve been unsure about…turning 40, turning 50… becoming a grandmother has been simple after all. Who can resist baby softness, the first giggles, the little face I see in photos? Listening to my daughter talk about Riley, her milestones, her emerging personality, I remember my own early motherhood experiences. I see Stephanie growing, expanding and understanding things I’ve been saying for years.

I like the quote from Elizabeth Stone:

    ” Making the decision to have a child – its momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”

And now I know it continues, past the child, on to the next generation.

Riley, ready for Halloween!

The deliciousness of being “us”

My husband and I have been married for 29 years. Our last two years have been spent in a non-traditional living arrangement, with him commuting from a work place to our home for long weekends. Currently we’re in the process of making changes. We’ve determined that we don’t like living like this, but are unsure of exactly what the future holds.

Over the past two years, I have had a lot of evenings to myself, and I have had occasion, for the first time since I was 21, to speak more of “I” and “me” than “we” and “us.” I choose what I want for dinner, I choose what I want to do with my evenings. Not that I never had this opportunity, and as the chief cook in our relationship, many times, dinner has been about what I felt in the mood to cook or eat rather than a collaborative choice.

But after so many years of taking togetherness for granted, I am again aware of the deliciousness of being “us.” I love to grocery shop with my husband and to plan our weekend dinners. I watch tv shows with him that I never see when I’m alone. We walk around the lake path together; we watch the sunset together; we have our morning coffee together. These are all simple pleasures, but they all hinge on being “us.” It is difficult to generate a sense of companionship when you’re drinking coffee alone.

With any lengthy relationship, there is a certain point when you will take it for granted. When does that happen? What causes a wake up? We entered the empty nest phase four years ago, and it took awhile to feel that the two of us were the right number in the house. At first, it seemed like it was all wrong to be two instead of four. But with time and recognition of the pleasures of being a couple again, the joy of being “us” has returned. I feel a bit selfish now with our time, and have a need to protect “us” from the intrusion of the outside world. It is good to be friends, lovers, companions, after 29 years, and to once again celebrate “us.”

The grace of letting go

I love pretty things…nothing unique in that. I have spent a lifetime buying and enjoying things. Let’s just say that Pottery Barn and Crate and Barrel are good friends, among many others! I’m not a collector of anything specific, but I enjoy choosing objects that accent the look and mood of my home.

But now I am in the process of preparing to sell our house, and the task of the initial sorting…what to keep this time, what to dispose of…is becoming a life sort. I am looking at my possessions with new eyes. Is this a function of being fifty? I know I have every expectation of having many years of active and productive life left to me. Yet I find myself thinking of the things I have hauled from state to state through various moves because I couldn’t give them up at the time. And suddenly, a lot of these possessions aren’t so vital any more. I am feeling lighter as I look at objects I could not have parted with in the last move, that today I am ready to release.

Don’t worry…I’ll still have plenty of stuff. But it will be a smaller amount, selected thoughtfully, and with a new standard of what I need in my life.

The grace of letting go…we need that ability for many experiences in life. We begin to let go of parents when we leave home; we let go of children when they leave home (or at least we try to do that); sometimes we have to let go of jobs or relationships as we progress through life. Maybe the easiest release after all is letting go of stuff. Easier than I thought it would be! Or maybe its just time to do it in my life. Everyone has their own schedule for evaluating and re-ordering life. This is such a time for me, and it feels good to be growing lighter.

What does this mean anyway?

A few years ago, when my son was 21 and we were having difficulties transitioning through some young adult issues, I had an epiphany one day: he needed grace from me, and space to be allowed to work out his issues. And that phrase has continued to have a useful place in my life, as I often feel that I either need these gifts for myself (from others) or I need to extend these gifts. Like most catchy phrases, it’s easy to say, more difficult to do in the grip of the moment, whatever the issue, and whoever the others involved.

So the point of this blog is recognizing that there are many grace notes in life…some come from and through others, some just seem to be gifts that come when needed and bring a smile, comfort, hope…or perhaps understanding. As most people instinctively seek and recognize comfort, recording the things or experiences that bring comfort may seem unnecessary. But I believe that when I consciously mark some positive thing in my life, I increase its power. If it is a personal luxury, I can repeat it when possible. If the source is from someone or something that is a random kindness or event, I can appreciate it more fully by acknowledging and being grateful for the gift I’ve received.

Many things bring a smile to my face: my children, my new grandchild, a good book, a moving quote, a phone call or email from a friend, comfort food, shopping in a favorite store, sunshine…grace is all around us, in many forms. We have to open our eyes to see, and our spirits to receive.