Ingrid Keriotis: These days are enough to relish ritual
When I was younger, I had no interest in ritual whatsoever. I didn’t even think I would ever get married. I liked the ‘it’s just a piece of paper’ argument I’d heard; it felt flip and rebellious.
I remember my mom saying, “There is something about declaring your love for another person in front of friends and family …” and that idea didn’t move me at all. I was a teenager and liked the troubled type of guy anyway, the type who would have wanted to sneak off with me and elope. But that is another story.
I had no interest in the ritual of church when I was younger either. Of course, some of that was being raised in a Unitarian church — my church spent a lot of time borrowing and changing rituals from other religious practices, anyway. When I went off to college, I was not like some of my friends, seeking out the local church at low points. I took my walks, stayed up late studying, had beers on the weekend. That was as close to ritual as I got.
When I was in my early 30s, the power of ritual came crashing back into my life. Along with sleep deprivation, the wish to lock yourself in the bathroom alone for several hours, and the sudden urge to buy lots of snacks in small packages, parenthood brings lots of ritual. If my little ones didn’t have a nap by 1 p.m. — meltdowns. No dinner by 5:30 p.m. — meltdowns. No story before bed —unthinkable.
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Rituals came into my life as a path of sanity. I realized this one night after my husband called me a “sleep Nazi.” Our family had stayed at a friend’s house late, and I thought we should leave to get the kids home to bed. Parenthood drowns in ritual. But it is also your life preserver. When do you write? During naptime. Enjoy a glass of wine with hubby? Once 8:30 bedtime comes. Your life becomes structured because the children thrive with structure. It was a lesson I learned again and again.
And so my adult life filled with rituals: my job, my kids’ activities, even the seasons and the activities that went with them. I did hot yoga in the winter, swam in the river in the summer. Summer brought novel reading, winter meant bubble baths. Congratulations you’ve become a boring adult. I remember the urge to call both my parents and say, “Thank you. I never knew being an adult would be so hard.” I would drop into bed those years when my children were small and take a long deep breath to try to recover from the ritual that was my life as a mother and wife.
So now here I am in my mid-40s, and us Californians have been sheltering in place for over a month. And I have come to relish ritual. Especially in the dark moments. I have come to appreciate the time I spend scrolling the news at 8 a.m. with my tea and my cat. I have come to cherish the short walk to the mailbox, the need to fill the wood rack outside. And even more strangely, just a couple of hours ago, as 6 p.m. neared, I didn’t mind at all that it was time to make dinner. With a husband doing a fast and kids who I didn’t want to drag away from an energetic badminton game, I opened the fridge and began. And I didn’t mind it. I didn’t sigh or dread it. I chopped the ginger and the garlic, I marinated some beef. I put water on to boil for noodles and washed green beans.
I spent an odd moment contemplating whether this was the first time I had ever found making dinner relaxing. Why now? I wondered.
Because almost all of the rituals in our lives have broken down. My children no longer go to school. A trip to the grocery store is a solo and somewhat stressful affair. I go to work by heading up to the tiny cubby in my bedroom and signing into Zoom. Easter and spring break were not spent with family or friends. Our lives are not sculpted by where we must go when. Our cars sit. Along with online work and school, we do our email, our social media, our showers, the chores that can no longer be neglected.
But when dinnertime comes, ritual is suddenly back as if it never left. Even if we have driven each other a bit crazy when we have bumped into each other throughout the day. Even if the thought of sitting together — as we have nearly every night since the middle of March — doesn’t sound appealing, we do it. And we sigh and lean into our warm food.
For at least one moment of the day, it feels like we are exactly where we should be. It feels like one of the best parts of life that still belongs to us.
Ingrid Keriotis teaches at Sierra College and is the author of the poetry collection “It Started with the Wild Horses.” Learn more about Ingrid on her website ingridkeriotis.com.
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