Ten years ago, Emma Restall Orr wrote a very readable book called: Ritual – A Guide to Life, Love and Inspiration. “ Ritual is the fine art of taking a break,” she says on page 4.
My family and I experience that kind of ritual yesterday, the grand day of giving thanks in all our various ways here in North America. For many the break is hunkering down before the TV to watch not one but many football ( American football, not soccer) games. For some it is the fine art of planning the attack for grabbing the best sales tomorrow. Discussions rage about whether to camp out in front of the favorite “big box store” which opens at 3 a.m., literally 3 a.m., or sleep at home and get up at 4:30 a.m. for the more conservative 5:00 a.m. opening elsewhere. In the past, customers have been literally trampled to death on this biggest shopping day of the year. For the last few years, this day has been called Black Friday.
Members of my family do not discuss shopping plans, but members of my family do make jokes about the people in other families who spend time planning their merchandising attack.
Back in the day when more of the extended family lived nearby and others visited from far away, our clan was larger. Yesterday we number only ten – about half. Four of those are kids, between nine and two. Fortuitous, this small group, because we end up having to squeeze into my wee cottage in the wood. The power outage, an empty propane tank, and an extensive home remodel, make it impossible for either of the two other families with larger homes to host.
In a way, the whole day feels like a ritual. My daughter in law comes over early with her two little boys. Their home is freezing without the furnace working. The wood stove is going at my place, the kitchen is warm because I’ve already baked the creamed onions and the corn pudding. She gets the turkey prepared, the oven reheats, the stuffing with fresh herbs is tossed with melted butter and onion and sausage. My two dogs lie nearby sharply watching every move. We wash dishes, find bowls, wipe dust off glasses. My daughter arrives with her two daughters, a sack of potatoes, fresh thyme and parsley, more butter. I get the real pumpkin pie filling ready – real because back in October the girls and I chose the pumpkin from the farmer’s field around the corner, roasted it, smashed it, added spices and sugar, then froze it to wait for today. Ahhhh yes. I haven’t done that in years and years, maybe, to be honest, NEVER.
The little boys are playing with the marbles and beach glass from the bowl by the wood stove…pushing them through the wicker seat of the old heirloom kid’s chair with which I grew up. The girls are in my bedroom art studio painting watercolors. The boys get out my steel drum and hammer away. The five year old pirouettes while singing her own version of the nutcracker.
The two Dads and brother-in-law show up. The one without heat and hot water at home heads for my hot shower. The other two bring out the beer and turn on the TV while also patting the dogs and tumbling with the kids. It is mayhem and miracle. In this tiny space, we cannot all sit at the table, so some do and some don’t when the food is served. The children, especially the girls, fly into their mounds of potato, meat and gravy. Some adult says, “Wait, we have to give thanks.”
We’ve been through this before as a family and some one else reminds us, “No, we’re ok. We’ll stop mid-meal and say our thanks individually. Remember how we did that last year at our house?” And we do remember and the memories are warm. And so we do that again. As the elder in the room, I hear all but the youngest pay homage to the gift of life, express gratitude for the hardships this week that have made us aware of our love for each other and of how glad we are to live near. I am full.
This experience may not be exactly the kind of ritual that Emma had in mind but this “fine art of taking a break” does happen once a year and I remember it as ritual, tell stories about it, make plans to ensure it will happen again.
Emma goes on to say: Pausing on this trodden path of everyday life, we give ourselves the time to see where we are walking. We delay our journey to gaze around, to contemplate, . . .to realize the extraordinary beauty and potential of the world around us…ritual reconditions our perspective. It is the practice of reminding ourselves of the value and power of living. It is that moment in which we stop and, looking around, understand that life is sacred.
We nailed it!