Sweet things kill me. I’m not just talking about the edible ones either. When I see something sweet, either an experience of a person or a moment between people, I kind of dissolve. Depending upon the time and place, public or private, I often find myself biting my lip to hold back the tears. I don’t really know the backstory of these tears either, their origin or their depth.
Last week, WAZE was doing her enigmatic delivery of me after my morning Alhambra run. It was a new route, and on the street I was on seemed filled with grammar schools. It was a particularly cold and windy morning, and you could see parents of all faces making an attempt to shield their little ones from the cold. Something caught my eye at a stoplight. I noticed 3 women, well one woman and 2 girls, in a sort of huddle in front of the school. The woman, without hiding or making a big deal, took her finger and guided it in an intricate pattern which touched her own heart and lips, those of the first little girl, and culminated in a crossing of herself. That girl mirrored the ritual for the woman then tottered off toward her friends. The ritual was duplicated for the second girl, and upon completion, without an extra hug or verbal goodbye, the woman left. It was nothing but a quick and uneventful moment in time for them, but I felt my eyes start to water. By the time the light had changed, I was in full blown tears. I felt so privileged to witness this somehow. I was not confused by the action, as I once had a Puerto Rican friend who had described a similar sounding daily ritual with her mother upon seeing or leaving her. I was simply moved.
It brought me back to the kitchen in Herzliya, Israel where my cousins would line up to wait for their blessings. My aunt Aziza, their grandmother, mumbled in Arabic and made some witchcraft like motions on them before Shabbat. I thought the moment looked nice. I thought my cousins seemed patient and unapologetic as their grandmother just needed to do this thing, for her, to continue this worship I suppose begun by her parents in Iraq. I wondered… Does this action live in my cousins today? Do they perform it on their children? We have all pretty much lost touch. There is a peripheral knowledge of everyones whereabouts, but no details. I got newly saddened by this realization, before I got lost in concrete thought process, I realized the emotional memory is more important when it comes to ritual. These actions are simple necessities from an older generation to express love. It goes beyond words, carries the weight of superstition, a magical protection of their loved ones, and I like it.
It’s like we might say, “Take a coat,” or “Remember your lunch,” as we rush them out the door. They might roll their eyes because these words in their specificity looses the power that these other often silent and otherworldly rituals seem to hold. Got me thinking… What are the rituals in our home that my kids internalize and expect consciously and unconsciously? I know some of them, certainly. A new friend of my eldest came for a sleepover and though it was late, we had not lit candles yet for Shabbat and so we started our candle/wine/challah routine. She looked genuinely shell shocked. I am not sure if it was the religion factor, but more the coming tougher of a family in a shared expression of something. The moment of loving blessing carried for us all a heavier awareness that night.
I think this is what ritual does. I think it is a shared moment that combines history and present moment in order to connect with others. And the sweetness it generates in me knocks me off my feet each time. Like when I catch the face of the man across from me who closes his eyes and smiles contentedly during the v’ahavata prayer, a prayer commanding love. I had asked him once what moves him so much about that prayer. He told me he and his father would sing it nightly, and though he is now gone, he can truly feel his father when he sings this prayer. A grown man so fully absorbed in joyful memory from what was most likely a perfunctory, daily ritual that I think I can feel his late father as well when I watch him.
People’s expressions of love, of gratitude or kindness, pull me in ways I cannot understand. Maybe that is as it should be. That inexplicable connection is exactly what makes ritual transcendent. The act is simple and honest, carries sweet history, and in the repetition, an other worldly magic takes root in a person, I guess. And for that experience, I am okay having no real explanation.
Wishing you all a loving Thanksgiving experience!
We will only practice together ONCE THIS WEEK SO…COME TOMORROW!
MONDAY NOV. 23, AT 8:30 AM
In peace, and loveliness,