Before the StairMaster
, there were stairs. Since I live in an older house, (about 1930, so not too old, and the stairs aren't unsafe or uneven in rise) I am lucky to have a nice straight climb of
16 steps between my first floor and second. There's another, shorter flight of stairs between the first floor and the basement, but anyway...last week, when I realized that muffinks and those birthday dinners were catching up with me, I started my version of the stair master. First, it was 5 flights (up and down) extra a day, twice a day. I did that. Plus, there were the countless normal flights of steps, and the regular mile long dog walk. When I "meet the stairs," I don't need an expensive piece of a equipment, that may only be discarded later, as waste.
Today, for the first time, I did 10 flights instead of five. Got a little heart pumping, wobbly leg action going by the end. Gosh, I must be out of shape. (or just when it comes to my version of free exercise that can be done whenever?) What strikes me most though is the introduction of a new ritual to my day that seems to stick so far. I've been thinking about rituals, because this weekend, I dyed a lot of cloth napkins.
It's traditional for Jews to set their Friday night dinner table (much like a Sunday dinner for Southern Christians) with white. That's because of this metaphor: one welcomes the Sabbath bride at the beginning of Shabbat. (Sabbath in Hebrew) When I got married, I was given white china and a dozen cotton white napkins. Since this was the sum total of all the table linen I had, my mom gave me some of hers. Over nearly 10 years, gravy, tomato and barbeque sauces have taken their toil...not to mention the red wine. No amount of bleach got rid of the stains. However, most of the napkins were in good shape...and I can't just throw away good cloth napkins!
So, I went wild with some mahogany and garnet dyes, and I got this:
We're trying out the concept of using cloth napkins every day instead of just for Friday nights, holidays, and when guests come over. This saves trees, paper napkins, and trash. We're on day two, I've got those mahogany napkins on the left on my little kitchen table. We'll see if this becomes a habit. If so, you can bet I'll knit more of these, too!
I got to thinking about ritual because of the napkins--not a religious thing in itself, but part of what makes meaning and prepares me for a traditionally religion-oriented once a week occasion. Also, I was reading Here If You Need Me
by Karen Braestrup, which was recommended to me by a thoughtful friend.
This memoir has such a respectful, loving way of approaching traumatic losses and end of life issues. It takes time to talk about religious ritual and prayer around death in a multi-denominational way, as Braestrup serves as a chaplain for Maine game wardens. It's well worth the read.
For me, at least, ritual is very meaningful. Not all ritual, everywhere, but the kind that says, at the end of a frustrating week, we sat down, as usual, on Friday night with a comfort meal of chicken noodle soup, challah, salad, wine, and peach crumble, and we laughed with a friend who came over at the last minute to boost our spirits. That helped. Those rituals, and habits (like the new "stair master" routine, which confuses the heck out of the dogs), add structure and meaning to our days. Some ritual is secular, like standing up for the seventh inning stretch at a baseball game. Some of it is small, like forming a knit stitch, one at a time, to soothe oneself. Some of it, like setting the table for Friday night dinner, has been my way of making a division between Sabbath and the rest of the week, for nearly my whole life. (that was my chore as a kid)
I'm going to miss the smell of white napkins, the bleach rising faintly from the drawer in the dining room, when I next set the dining room table. Yet, I can match that lack with my new ritual--one of reusing something in a new way, avoiding unnecessary waste. There's both comfort and value in that juxtaposition.