Little Rituals

I love little rituals. Small things you do that aren’t a huge or impactful part of your day, that come and go with enough frequency that it feels weird to call them “rituals” sometimes. They’re the first things to go when you’re stressed or running out of time in a day and the first thing to come back when you get through the worst of it and can return to whatever you consider normalcy. For instance, during the time of the year when it’s usually dark before I leave work, I always stop whatever I’m doing right before sunset, make myself a nice cup of tea, and spend some time looking out at the world as darkness closes in. I never drink the tea while I’m doing this because it is far too hot during this brief ten-minute window, but I enjoy the warmth it provides nevertheless. As I return to my desk for however much time remains before I’m finished for the day, I slowly sip the tea and think about the sun setting in the distance, behind trees or clouds or the nearby hills. It always helps me feel less frustrated when I leave work after nightfall and it gives me something to look forward to that makes me feel like I’m still a part of each passing day even when my office is located in a space without any windows.

I don’t think I would go so far as to call myself a collector of little rituals, but I definitely appreciate them. I might go so far as to call myself a curator, though, since I try to be aware of my habits and only maintain the ones that are actively beneficial to me. One of my favorites, and the one that sparked my initial interest years ago, is the way a friend and I say goodnight. For the past nine years out of the ten we’ve know each other, she has been six or more time zones ahead of me. Mostly seven. As a result, most of our talking happens during my breaks at work or toward the end of her day, or at the very beginning of my own. Since we’ve adapted to this time gap over the years (feeling it more and more now that she’s going to sleep earlier than she once did and I’m waking up later than I once did because ten years will take a toll on anyone), we got into the habit of me wishing her a good night when she would end our conversation for the night and then she’d say “You too, eventually.”

It’s a small thing, a tiny little ritual of phrasing we’ve adopted and stuck with for years, and we both enjoy it immensely. It is a familiar comfort as our conversations have shifted from job hunting, post-graduate education, and the possibilities of the future to the frustrations of the present, trying to live in the world in which we’ve found ourselves, and the glimmers of hope we cling to as the future seems darker than it ever did before. It is a final little note to end our conversation on that says we have known each other for years and will continue to stay in contact despite the distance. It is as familiar and comforting as it once was to hug each other goodbye during the all-too-brief year we attended the same school.

My entire morning is made up of much less comforting but no less important little rituals. Every morning at five minutes to eight, I take the coffee that has brewed and cooled to the perfect temperature and pour it into my insulated mug where it will lose about a degree of temperature for every hour it stays covered. Every day on my way out of my apartment, I say the same series of phrases to my bird, Fidget, to remind her that I love her, that she has tasty food for while I’m gone, that the birds outside the window can’t hurt her, and that I’ll be back as soon as I can, comforting myself at the same time as her that today will be just another day like every other one before it. I pause at the same spot as I walk to my car to touch the last big tree in the yard outside my apartment, taking solace in size as it protects me from rain or snow, shades me from morning sun, or sings to me as wind stirs its branches. All of these little habits fall by the wayside when I’m in a rush or have to leave for work earlier than I’d like or if the weather is bad enough that I just want to get my commute over with, but they’re easy to bring back the next day, as my life returns to its usual patterns.

I do not have some profound insight. Most of this can be summed up succinctly using whatever iteration of the “it’s the small things” phrase you prefer, but that feels so trite to me. Maybe it’s because I have very little else in my life that gets me through the day, maybe it’s because I live by myself and mostly do my own thing every day, but maybe it’s because I grew up in unknowable chaos and can’t help but savor all the little predictable bits of my day-to-day. Maybe all of them and more. I just wanted to take a moment to apprecriate them, is all.

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