More about rituals

My writing prompt for yesterday, or maybe the day before, was asking about rituals. I’m not sure I did that very thoroughly. If I’d read the whole prompt (very bad habit that I have, not scrolling down to the end) I would have seen that it asked about rituals I miss, and id I wished I had any special traditions with family. It also asked what small rituals I might have to make my days more special.

Well, hell. I don’t really know about rituals I might have, or create, to make the days special. I do know, however, what rituals I miss. I know I miss going home for Thanksgiving and Christmas to have a nice holiday dinner at some restaurant or buffet with my mother. That had become a tradition, and was special. When she started becoming less competent, I still looked forward to it. It was still a tradition, which qualifies as ritual to me.

I miss doing that. It was family, it was mine, it was where I felt as though I belonged. It’s not that I don’t feel as though I belong in certain other places, but that was one that I never doubted or questioned. Yes, there were times when she drove me so crazy that I wondered why in the hell I’d made the trip, but that didn’t last all that long.

The first Thanksgiving she was in the nursing home, I really felt it. I stayed here, in NC, and did absolutely nothing. When I found out they were not going to let her go on the holiday outing with the other residents, I was heartbroken. I cried, and cried, thinking she would be all alone for Thanskgiving, that I should have been there. I knew, intellectually, that she really had no idea what day it was, nor that it was a holiday and she was missing anything in particular. I suppose I was the one missing it.

I have a bit of a new tradition with a friend, who invites me on Thanksgiving to spend the day with her and her family. They are great people, and I have a good time. I feel very comfortable with them, and continue to feel that her invitation is one of the kindest things anyone has ever done for me. She knew that I was by myself, and missing my tradition of going home, and she made the invitation. This year, COVID-19 interrupted our routine, and I did miss it.

I suppose I have a tiny bit of ritual these days, for myself, in the mornings. Once I wake up, or the dog wakes me up, I immediately proceed to the facilities, which is simple biological necessity. Following that, however, I proceed to the Keurig machine to make coffee. I’m pretty religious about that, and always make sure I haven’t run out of creamer. While it’s brewing, I get a couple of Rice Krispies Treats, maybe a Dum-Dum or a Tootsie Pop, or a Hostess cupcake. Once the coffee is done, I pass by the dog treat bag for Psycho-dog’s treat (by that time, she is sitting guard near the bag), hold out her treat and wait for her to grab it and race off to the bedroom with it firmly clenched in her mouth. I then follow to the bedroom, get back in bed with coffee and MY treats, and pull up the laptop. FaceBook is checked, sometimes Twitter, and CNN is turned up. Usually in exactly that order.

Writing here, on this Sound Hole site, has also become somewhat of a ritual. I’ve been writing something almost every day. It gives me a bit more clarity, and allows me to dissipate some of the emotionalism of whatever is in the news. In general, that helps me to avoid regurgitating every thought transiting my brain to the first person I encounter. People can thank me later for that.

If i could ever clean up this crack-house-looking hell hole of an apartment, I might be able to do something more spiritual, like lighting a candle or meditating, but not today. I did manage to make a cursory swoop over the kitchen floor with the Swiffer. That damned thing frustrates the daylight out of me, because it picks up the dirt just fine, but then it winds up pushing all of the remnants into a little pile that it don’t stick on the pad. So, I usually have to pick that up with a paper towel or something, which seems a lot like wasted effort, or design flaw, or something. Maybe my technique is faulty. I didn’t read the instructions for that, either.

I enjoy routines of a certain flavor, like attending regular meetings of things like my Fellowship’s service, or a committee that is doing some kind of work. My social justice committee is like that, although most days I’d be happier if I could just do stuff without them. Their participation is rather goofy…sometimes erratic attendance, sometimes way off the mark, sometimes hung up in the process and forgetting the actual work. But, I do what I have to do. I don’t see anybody beating down the door to take over the chair person role, so…I will just carry on.

When I have certain routines, or consistent activities, that causes me to feel somewhat grounded and in control. Conversely, when routines are set on me, by external sources, I am resentful and oppositionally defiant. (I am not sure oppositionally is a word, but it’s my sentence, so it is now) I will usually begin to feel trapped and compulsive see variance, just for the hell of it. Sometimes I confuse even myself with that stuff.

Twenty seconds is not a long time, unless it’s the last twenty seconds of your life. It is amazing to me that humans have found so many ways to end another human’s life, and in such incredibly short amounts of time. I saw a video once, a long while ago, from a British tourist who’d been in a restaurant in New York when a gunman burst in, shooting. Her partner was killed, and she described the moment he fell as being the blink of an eye, the nearly imperceptible twitch of the gunman’s finger on the trigger. And a life was over. In a split second, probably even less of a thought. That blip of time is still going on for her, and for the people that loved her fallen partner, and for anyone else who was there. That’s the bitter and long-lasting flavor of homicide. It only ends for the target of the immediate action, but never for anyone caught in the waves that rush outward from the impact of that body bullet fired, that body hitting the ground.

I struggle to imagine what goes through the mind of someone pulling the trigger of an instrument of death, or plunging forward with a knife, or bringing down a fist onto the flesh of another person. I am a firm believer in the obliteration of reason and rational cause-and-effect linear thought when emotions overtake a person, when adrenalin blots out the frontal cortex and executive decision making. When there is malice aforethought, when there is intention, when there is preparation for such action, however, I am less understanding. Usually, my only thought is, “How COULD you?”

People die every day, by disease or accident or homicide. There is suffering in the world – there always has been, and there always will be. However it works, that’s apparently our contract for being here. Nobody gets out of here alive, and that’s the one immutable rule in the game of life. It sucks, often more for those who remain after the death of a loved one. Our pain seems magnified, amplified, when the immediate cause of a loved one’s death seems unfair, or needless in our estimation.

I’m not entirely sure where that enhanced response actually comes from, other than perhaps it pricks our own sense of control, our own tenuous hold on mortality. I have no idea how my life will end. For a long time, I have been reasonably fearful that I ight be murdered, and specifically, that I would be made to suffer by someone else’s hand. This has been a horrifying thought, but I wonder if that is any worse than dying from a long bout of terminal cancer, where organic functions are eating away at internal organs and causing intractable and excruciating pain. The only difference would seem to be my estimation of the fairness, the equanimity of it (or lack thereof).

My grandmother died of complications from ovarian cancer. My good friend Charaine died of non-small cell lung cancer. My friend Janet died of metastatic uterine cancer. Several friends have died of AIDS. They all had physical pain that no medication could relieve. They all knew they were dying, and were powerless to stop it. They were all surrounded by people who loved them, and were powerless to stop it. And they came to a singularity in time and space where the body ceased. We do no know if that moment brings the soul, or the spirit, or that part of us that makes us who we are, to non-existence. I don’t think so, but that’s another story. But at some point, there are no more breaths, there is no more circulatory function, the cardiac muscle pulses no more.

We don’t know what that moment is, or when it will come. We cannot share that experience. We’ve all heard, or read, stories of near-death experiences…tunnels, darkness, seeing long-departed loved ones, feeling peace and absence of pain. It seems to be different for everyone who feels they’ve been to the brink of death, but somehow did not cross over. We can’t even define what that brink really is, and I suppose it’s not important – if you are past the brink, you’re no longer here in our plane of existence. Is there another plane? I think so, and I hope so.

When someone dies, I feel helpless, and I don’t enjoy feeling helpless. It frightens me, and I quite seamlessly fold in on myself, to someplace that is full of sadness, and usually anger. The anger helps to deal with the sadness, and the powerlessness. The anger keeps me standing, when my spirit wants me to to collapse and curl up into a fetal position. That’s a very natural human response, and I have to cut myself a break for having that.

When I’ve gotten more into my spiritual response, though, I wonder if I should be sad at all. Many religious sects employ the concept of “home going” as a way to celebrate rather than surrender to the sadness of death. Be joyful for the departed, because they are going home to a celebration and reunion with their Lord! That comforts many who remain, but there is still sadness. I suppose it’s an unconscious affirmation that we are ALL in the diaspora of the spirit, and we are all involuntarily separated from our Source, the place we originated. At least that’s how I reconcile the whole thing.

When a life is taken unfairly, though, without choice of the victim, we stay in the anger far longer, we stay in the fear, we stay in the need for “closure” and retribution. I strongly believe there should be consequence, accountability, for those who unfairly and illegally take the life of another. That is not a spiritual position for me, however. I just feel that we have a contract with one another, whether people want to iterate the nonsense of being a sovereign citizen or some such off-the-grid rhetoric, or not. We have agreed to certain rules and certain laws that attempt to make a way for millions of us to survive together on this shared rock hurtling through the Universe. I don’t have any better way to do it, and if I’m going to live here on the grid, I morally have to accept that I am in contract with several billion of my closest friends. A contract that says I have no moral agency over them, nor they over me. I can’t end their lives, and they can’t end mine. Since we are fallible and weak humans, though, one of us might break that contract, in which case there are consequence for us. That has nothing to do with spiritual law.

When death occurs from natural cause, or accident, or disease, I find it difficult to express sympathy that death has occurred. I don’t know if there was some esoteric choice in the matter, or some other conglomeration of factors that I cannot understand, on some other plane of existence. What I can say is that I’m sorry it’s difficult to see them depart, that I’m sorry for the remaining ones’ pain, that I’m sorry the experience has to be so hard. I’m not sorry they died, because I don’t know what that experience has been for them. I don’t even attempt to explain that to anyone, because I know it would be seen as indifferent and callous, or even insulting. But until I know what the departed one’s experience was, I can’t say that I’m sorry. Just like I don’t know what the moment of birth feels like, I have to allow for the possibility that maybe death is the best experience of our lives.

We do not do death well in most cultures. It frightens us, because it is the ultimate unknown experience. We have a great deal of mythology surrounding the afterlife, or lack of afterlife. Many religious sects perceive of death as relocation of the departed as we know them, as we experience them, to some “heavenly” and eternal realm. In the sky. Unless the departed person has erred on their Earthly walk, in which case they proceed to some eternal sub-Eartly and unpleasant world. That gives us a lot to think about, and more reason to stay in our heads about it as we translate the afterlife into some otherworld environment where everybody looks about the same, but with superhuman powers that never die. (I don’t remember any depictions of people in Heaven needing to go to the bathroom or anything like that).

So, we are annoyingly human. We try to lessen our pain, escape our pain, in any way that we can. If that means we stay in anger, that’s what we do. Hopefully, it doesn’t mean that we resort to revenge, and retribution, but sometimes that happens. It doesn’t change anything. It doesn’t bring the loved one back to us.

When a loved one has departed because of an intentional act of another, we feel that we’ve been robbed, that we’ve been victimized, that we are powerless to control the actions of someone else. Even more painful, even if we could do that, we do not have the power to return a body to life. Perhaps that is what we grieve the most, what causes us the most pain. Our powerlessness. Our mortality. We most immediately feel small, and futile, and virtually inconsequential. We have no answer for that, no solace for that, no remediation for that. And perhaps that is the crux of grief…that death be not proud, it be not biased, it has no predilection. We are equal targets at the singular point in the Universe that constitutes the final breath. That should give us pause, and it does. Even stars die, planets die, every molecule in existence dies. I suppose that all of it is as it should be.

Some things die not with a whimper, not with a whisper, but with a bang. Perhaps it is a cause for celebration.

Published by annzimmerman

I am Louisiana born and bred, now living in Winston Salem, North Carolina. Fortunately for me, I was already living in NC before Hurricane Katrina decimated my beloved New Orleans. An only child, I now feel that I have no personal history since the hurricane destroyed the relics and artifacts of my childhood. As I have always heard, c'est la vie. My Louisiana roots show in my love of good coffee, good food, and good music. My soggy native soil has also shown me that resilience is hard-wired in my consciousness; when the chips are down (or drowned)...bring it on.

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