Morning Rituals

For as long as I can remember, Mom would get up long before daybreak to begin her day.  She would brew a pot of coffee, pour a cup for herself and one for Dad, add two teaspoons of sugar per cup, then return to bed, coffee in hand, where she and Dad would sit quietly talking for a bit.  We kids were not allowed to bombard them with our demands until they had some time alone together.  This was their daily ritual, one that never changed in all the years I was growing up (except when camping, then the roles reversed.)  It is a most wonderful and intimate way to start one’s day, I imagine.  I remember being on the other side of their bedroom door and hearing their muffled voices.  We never knew what they were talking about, and at times wondered how two people could always have something to discuss every morning, day in and day out. But, they did, and to us this seemed perfectly normal.   I was in high school before learning that this morning ritual was an uncommon habit not practiced in the homes of my friends.     

 Another morning ritual–winter morning ritual– from when I was very young also brings fond memories…now.  Although we lived in Louisiana, winter could (once or twice a year at least) produce a “cold snap,“ with temperatures plummeting into the 20’s.  Central air was a rarity found in few homes at that time.  Rather, we had open flame gas heaters in every room.  That way we could heat the rooms in use, and close off the rooms not in use. At night we slept with no heat in our bedrooms because Mom was too fearful of blankets accidentally being tossed onto the flame. That meant that when bedtime came, we would have to crawl in between marble cold sheets. To say that this was no fun is an understatement, but once I crawled in and made a little cocoon for myself, the chill would quickly dissipate.  It helped that the bed was piled high with Momma Futch’s (Grandma) or Mom’s home-made quilts.  The next morning while it was still dark, after Mom put the coffee on to brew, she would come around to each of our rooms to light the heaters while we were still in bed.  When we arose, the room would still be chilly but not frigid.  Just as bad as crawling into bed at night between cold sheets is stepping into icy clothes in the morning when dressing for school.  So, time permitting, we would warm our clothes before putting them on by standing in front of the heater and literally holding our garments over the flame.   My three brothers and I would each claim a heater for this purpose while Mom was in the kitchen preparing breakfast.  It’s a wonder we didn’t burn the house down!  Speaking of breakfast, we had a variety of choices the entire time I lived at home: Quaker Oatmeal, Cream of Wheat, Ralston. Add to that  a piece of toast (no one makes toast as good as Mom does.  Ask my kids.  She takes a piece of bread, dots it with dollops of butter, sticks it in the oven to toast, then slathers it with plenty of homemade jelly) and a glass of powder milk and we were set for the day! There you have it; our winter morning ritual on cold Louisiana mornings!     

my piano
My Piano

 

Our move to Kentucky when I was fifteen years old changed some of our rituals.  No longer did we have the open flame heaters.  Now we had central air. Mom was no longer the “alarm clock” who woke us up and started us on our days.  I missed that.  But we still had an alarm clock to get the family up and going in the mornings.  Me.  I played piano, but as I began high school, finding practice time proved to be quite challenging.  Mom’s solution?  Practice first thing in the morning before going to school.  So, each morning around 5:00 (or 5:30 if I overslept) I would get up and practice the piano.  Since I had to do this, it wasn’t like this was my choice, I would begin by practicing a few scales–in fortissimo!  I am told (by my brothers, and a couple of cousins who lived with us for a few months) that I played so loudly the walls would shake.  A bit of an exaggeration, I assure you, but practice I must, and if that was the only time available, then the family had to endure this with me.  The truth of the matter is that playing the piano was seriously important to me. Throughout high school I found ways and places to practice (the school‘s chorus room during study hall, the church piano when no one else was around, etc.)  At one time in my life I was pretty good, good enough to win a small scholarship to begin college.  After a couple of years, however, I forfeited my scholarship by changing my academic major.  Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I had continued with music.  Today my piano is a living room ornament, a dust collector, but from time to time I still enjoy sitting down and plunking out a tune.  Much to Richard’s relief, I gave up those early morning practice sessions long before I met him.    

negel vasser
negel vasser

 

My rituals have changed over the years to reflect the changes I have gone through.   When I chose to become Jewish, I took on the rituals of the Jewish people.  Even so, some things don’t change.  Much like Mom, I, too, am an early riser.  Once awake, I find it impossible to stay in bed (most of the time…there are exceptions.)  When the last of the kids left home, my mornings became my quiet time.  For the past decade, my ritual has included more “thank you” time, more prayer time.  Before my feet touch the ground, I thank G-d for having kept me through the night, and giving me another day.  I then wash my hands, pouring cold water over one hand then the other a few times.  This is followed with blessings, prayer and thanksgiving.  Only then do I make myself a cup of coffee as I ease into my day.  Unlike me, my husband the scientist wakes up immediately ready to discuss some deep complicated physics problem, or a burning world issue, and he wants my opinion, even if it’s four o’clock  in the morning.  Fortunately, however, over the years he has learned that trying to engage me in anything resembling deep animated discussion before I’ve had my first cup of coffee is a dangerous proposition.    

Morning rituals create fond memories and foster feelings of security.  But they do more than that.  Rituals are the glue binding families together, and oftentimes bring us back together for various events and holidays throughout our lives. How often do you and your family fondly reminisce about some ritualized activity when gathered together for some event?  Rituals identify who we are and Whose we are.  Rituals mark momentous events reminding us that we are part of a bigger world. They help instill in us our value as individuals within a community, be it religious, familial, cultural or ethnic.  Our days are filled with rituals from arising in the morning to reclining at night.  They are important, for the seemingly small, insignificant rituals become the fiber of our lives.  For me, not only do these rituals provide mooring for my soul, but in addition to everything else I have written here, they create that connection which strengthen my relationship with G-d, and provide markers along the path to holy living.    

Memories of morning rituals from my youth are strong and vivid indicating their importance to me.  Morning rituals continue to be vital  to my spiritual, mental and emotional well-being.     

What are some memories of your morning rituals? What feelings do you have about those rituals (then and now)?  How have your rituals changed over the years?

Thanks Giving 2009

Unemployment. Uncertainty. Unknowns. Hacks. Betrayals. Scams. Loss. Recession. Doubt. Depression. Fear. Terrorists. Thanksgiving.

What? Thanksgiving? How did that slip into this list?

Yes, Thanksgiving. In this country, the United States of America, once a year we take time to be thankful for all of our blessings. Sometimes, such as the present time, we may think there is little for which to be thankful. Just read the list again. Evil seems pervasive. Ubiquitous. How do we be thankful when we’ve lost our job? our home has gone into foreclosure? illness strikes? we are betrayed by someone we thought was our friend? Etc.

Many years ago, when my life was in enormous upheaval, there was a time when I actually believed there was nothing to be thankful for, or at least very little. I will spare you the details, just suffice it to say that that was a very bleak time in my life. During that time my enlightened youngest daughter gave me two small journals. She suggested that each night before I go to bed I write down at least five things I was thankful for on that day; just five blessings each day to record in a journal. The first days were tough. “Thank you that this day is over.” “Thank you that I don’t have to see or talk to anyone else today.” “Thank you that I don’t have to fake a smile, or sound happy on the phone, or make up things to be thankful for any more today…” However, sometime later when I went back to read some of the entries, I noticed that by the end of the first week when I recorded my five blessings for the day, a definite change was beginning to take place. “Thank you that I have a warm bed to sleep in tonight.” “Thank you that I had food to eat today.” “Thank you for the first crocuses I saw poking through the snow.” By the time I had been recording my blessings for the second week, I found that listing five blessings daily was impossible; there were too many blessings to narrow the list down to just five. In addition, I was adding prayers for others in need of recognizing their daily blessings. I could write endlessly about the blessings I encountered each day. Really. In two short weeks my attitude and sense of well being had changed dramatically. Even though my situation had not changed, I was changing inwardly which reflected outwardly, all because I simply paused each day to count my blessings. Thank you, Mary, for those small journals and your sagely advice. I filled both journals in short order and have gone on to fill other journals recounting the many blessings of my life.

A second story is not really my own, but it impacted the way I pray daily. I want to give credit to the person who told me this true story, but I honestly cannot remember the source. It seems that a rabbi was teaching a class of young children how to pray. The rabbi went around the room and asked each child what they would say to G!d if they could speak to the Almighty directly. The children were each listing all the things they would ask for, personal requests and, commendably, things for others, too. When he got to one young boy though, the child simply answered, “Todah. Todah. Todah.” Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Since hearing this story, my prayer life has changed. Today, every prayer I pray ends with three simple words: “Todah. Todah. Todah.”

The evil we encounter in this world is daunting, yes. Things happen in our lives that we must pause to grieve. Pains and fears grip us even as we seek to live exemplary lives. Exhaustion from tending to our cares blurs our vision. However, I have discovered that goodness expressed in the simple act of counting our blessings and giving thanks is far more powerful than the evil. Choosing to be thankful is in fact, a remarkable healing balm for our spiritual and emotional wounds.

Thanksgiving recognizes on one day the attitude to be exemplified every day. May we all develop the daily habit of counting our blessings and offering heartfelt thanks. Happy Thanksgiving.