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THE POWER OF RITUALS
This article comes from Gina Bria with the New York Times. “A ritual is a special act that links people through shared meaning. It can last a moment or it can be repeated through a lifetime. Rituals intimately affect families, giving them a common focus, bringing them together in a way everyday activities cannot. Demanding jobs and busy schedules have eroded traditions. But there are still daily moments that lend themselves naturally to ritual – exits and entrances, bathing and bedtime. These rituals are closer to us than we think, for they ride alongside the routine in our lives. Our rituals identify us as a family to each other and to the outward world.

When our children started school, my husband and I devised a morning exit rite. The last stop at the door, usually reserved for collar pulls and hair straightening, was transformed when I simply pressed my hand on their heads. “I’m sending you out to the world; come back safe.” My children would return for that benediction if I had forgotten it. I’ve caught my three-year-old saying goodbye to his older sister. He reaches up and puts his hand on her brow, often leaving behind a peanut butter smear. “Yuck,” she yells, but she exists knowing she will return to a haven.

As a contemporary twist to Sabbath rest, we have high tea on Sunday evenings. It waxes and wanes in its elaborateness. Certain plates and platters come out just for this event. They are nothing more than thrift shop finds, but once they hit the table, they become heroic, met with expectation and excitement. We light candles, sing, and nibble on treats. In tougher times, our treat was popcorn. It didn’t matter that we ate like birds; we still soared. Come chicken pox or tax time, we relish our tea together. Disappointment reigns if we have to miss it.

Nevertheless, miss it we do, and that’s another lesson. Rituals lose their power if held on to too rigidly, with roles too prescribed. They work best when used flexibly, creatively. We’ve abandoned certain rituals and added others as our children grow.

My six-year-old daughter and I still have a bath time ritual. Now, we play Saturday beauty salon. I chew gum loudly and do her hair. As I lather up, I ask questions in an accent disguise, “So, da-a-hling, how’s the school situation?” Sure enough, I get a deluge of confidences I would never receive in the role of Mom. I hope my daughter and I will still share this ritual, in some fashion, when she’s on her own. It would be a moment we forged together over a lifetime. Maybe, someday, she’ll wash my hair asking, “So, da-a-hling, how’s the retirement situation?””

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