Monday, July 15, 2013

This I Believe

I have been reading a collection of "This I Believe" essays from NPR--both from the original series in the 1950s and the ones from more recent years.  I have wondered for a long time what I would write about if I could ever read my own essay on the radio. I never settled on anything, until today.

I believe in the power of rituals and traditions. 

This would come as a surprise to many, my mother more than anyone.  I was raised Catholic, but rejected the Church and its ritualistic worship.  I did not convert to Judaism even though I took a conversion class with my then-boyfriend, now husband.  I haven’t gone to my family’s traditional Christmas party in many years.  I don’t go to big weddings.  I also don’t attend graduations, which I really ought to do since I am a tenured member of my university.  I have never been a conformist.  Probably the single easiest way to get me not to do something is to say something like “do it because I say so” or “do it because this is the way it has always been done.”

But I believe in the power of everyday rituals.

I believe in making a bath into an event with bubbles and books and music.  I believe in the comfort of a cup of tea that reminds me of my mother’s warmth and love.  I believe in home-made present night every Chanukah, and telling my kids what to dream about before they go to sleep every night (thank you, Todd Parr, for giving that idea so many years ago with your book Otto Goes to Bed).  I believe in the power of telling my kids to “be good, have fun, and learn stuff” as they go off to school every morning.  I believe in visiting the library once a week and delighting in the world of books.  I believe in lighting candles and eating in the dining room on Friday nights, followed by a family movie.  I believe in reading a good book on a rainy or snowy day.  I believe in the meditative power of knitting, even though I am not especially good at it. 

I believe in saying hello to people that I pass on the street and in saying "thank you."

I believe that watching Shawn the Sheep episodes with my family can improve any bad day.

I believe in taking a walk every morning, usually listening to NPR, as a way to save my sanity.  When it rains or snows, I sometimes get on a treadmill and listen to No Doubt’s Tragic Kingdom. 

I believe that birthday cakes have to be made for you from scratch by someone who loves you.

I believe in the kind of love that gets two people who have known each other for over 20 years to go out for coffee once a week so that they can talk honestly about their lives.

It’s a kind of existential belief in ritual, one that presumes that there is no core meaning to find in this world, in this universe.  Belief that comes from within and builds out of ordinary life and choices—not from conformity or established institutions.  Rediscovering the power of everyday ritual in middle age just might reconnect me with spirit, with something bigger than myself, in ways that formalized rituals never did. 

 What do you believe?

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