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?

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My “Untethering” Moment

I was in the process of divorce.  Horrible process.  Painful and ugly.  After 25 years, my identity was stripped away and I was having a terrible time adjusting.  I was in limbo and trying new things;  trying things that were not good for me.  Being “brave” and “bold” and “stupid” things.  I couldn’t get my bearings.  I was angry and hurt and frightened, trying to hide the intensity of the emotions and doing a very poor job of it.  I prayed for guidance, for doors to open, for a direction.  I prayed to feel human again.  Numbness weighted me down.  It was not a pretty time in my life.  Answers and direction were slow in coming.  I felt as if I was trudging through molasses just to get through my days.  However, every once in a while a glimmer of hope presented itself.  One such moment came in the form of a man named Esteban.  He, too, had recently experienced a life altering tragedy and was, in his way, beginning the process of rebuilding his life.  Esteban came around for just  a short time, but in the brief moments our paths converged, I was able to glimpse a new trajectory for my life.  How?  He took me skydiving.  Yup!  Skydiving brought an end to my downward spiral, and helped me re-engage with life, albeit a different life.  Skydiving, mind you, had never crossed my mind as one of those things on my “bucket list,”  things I wanted to carry out before I “kicked the bucket.“  It never occurred to me that one could so easily find a “skydiving” school (check the yellow pages; it’s there) or that signing up for an eight-hour training session (static line ~ no tandem jump for me!) then jump from thousands of  feet in the air was a possibility.   Not on my radar screen.  Esteban was the one who put the notion in my head.  He even paid for the training and the first jump.  What a swell guy!
        

Ready for take-off!

 

I registered to take my training and jump on a clear day near the end of February.  It was cold, but not too cold for jumping.  We drove out to the school about an hour away from my apartment.  Even to the most casual observer, I was a nervous wreck.  What had I gotten myself into?  This?  Just to impress a man?  Was I crazy?  I don’t even recall if anyone else enrolled in the training with me.  I spent the entire  day learning what to do in the air; how I was going to jump; what to do if things went wrong–and there were plenty of scenarios to rehearse of “stuff” going wrong; how to land and roll to avoid injury; etc.  Eight hours of training.  We spent time looking at aerial maps so that I would know what to look for when airborne and therefore would know where to guide myself to land in the proper place.  By the way, aerial maps are no good.  They make absolutely no sense whatsoever!  But I studied the maps anyway, hoped that when I was in the air the terrain looked like the map (it did not), and acted “cool“ like I knew what I was doing.  I fervently and quietly prayed  that I would not lose sight of the big X marked on the field where I was to land, because if I did, I’d be a goner.   By the end of the day it was too late to jump so I scheduled another day to actually make the jump.        

Freedom!

 

A few days later we drove out to the school again.  This time there was a hubbub of activity.  There were a lot of skydivers there, each in their colorful jumpsuits, each checking their respective chutes and making sure for the umpteenth time that everything was in order.  I was directed to the area for “newbies”  where I was given an ugly khaki jumpsuit to wear.  We reviewed highlights of what I had learned earlier: how to get out of a line twist; what to pull if the canopy were to become tangled or didn’t open; what NOT to pull if I wanted to keep my canopy attached to my body; how to land and roll to avoid injury.  The instructor checked my canopy and all the zippers and lines and stuff.  Then we loaded into the plane and took off.  I was jumping first since I was “exiting the plane” at the lowest altitude: 3500 feet.  Others on the plane with me were going up to as high as 8k feet.  As we rose into the air climbing higher and higher, the mood in the plane was quite jovial.  My heart, however, was pounding so hard I could barely hear anyone else speaking.  I could hardly breathe.  When I did speak, the words stuck in my throat.  The others laughed and slapped me on the back.  First jump.  Finally it was time for me to get into position.  Actually, there was no jumping this first time.   Just reach out of the plane, grab hold of the strut (diagonal bar from the plane’s body to its wing) and hang there until my instructor motioned for me to let go.  All I had to do was to let go.  Just letting go; letting go of all that tethered me to that plane.  I absolutely could not believe I was doing this!  But in a robotic way I went though the motions and suddenly found myself hanging from the strut of the plane 3500 feet in the air.  What the hell had I gotten myself into!  Don’t look down.  Look straight into my instructor’s face.  I no sooner looked at him when he gave the signal to let go.  And, unbelievably, I let go.  The strangest sensation in the world hit me as I watched the plane continue on it’s path and I was not with it.  Just me spread eagle in the sky holding on to nothing and watching the plane move further away and out of reach.  Suddenly I felt a jerk and looked up.  Wouldn’t you know it!  The lines had twisted and here I am on my first jump!  Get out of the twist or no canopy will open!  Unbelievable though it sounds, the thought did not panic me.  I forced myself to stay calm.  I reminded myself that I knew what to do.  I grabbed hold of the lines and began to work myself around as instructed.  And just like I had been told, the lines straightened up and the canopy sprang open.  I checked the lines to make sure that I could maneuver to the right, then to the left.  When satisfied that everything was in working order, I dared to look down.  Yes!  “X” marked my landing spot and I could see it even from this height.  And what a sight it was!  I relaxed a bit and looked out over the country side, breathing deeply and taking in the view.  NOW I felt the exhilaration.  I  whooped and hollered, swerved in circles to the right, then to the left as I played with the lines that controlled direction.  I floated.  I was in awe.  I did not want this experience to end.  Before taking off, my jump instructor had placed a remote radio in my helmet so that he could communicate with me in the air.  He guided me a little, but I didn’t want to listen to his voice.  I just wanted to soak in the experience and the sight and make it last as long as possible.  I had no sense of the speed with which I was falling.  There was nothing that far up to measure with so there was no falling sensation.  That is, until I reached treetop level; then I was very much aware of how fast I was descending.  Suddenly I became  intensely alert and focused on how to land–hit the ground–without injuring myself.  The minute my feet touched the ground I felt the heaviness of gravity and was abruptly pulled back into reality.  As instructed, I landed with bent knees and immediately went into a roll. Actually, it was rather easy.  When I stood I looked up at the plane far away, saw other skydivers in the air making their colorful descents, and was speechless.  I had done it.  Furthermore, I wanted to do it again!  I rolled up my paraphernalia  and headed for the small hangar.  Along the way I got congrats and slaps on the back.  I felt like a million bucks.        

Mission accomplished.

 

I believe that was the last time I ever saw Esteban, however, that jump was a turning point in my life.  For when I have faced seemingly insurmountable obstacles, or anything unfamiliar, daunting, or striking fear in me, I think back to that day when I made my first jump.  Although I made a few more jumps before I hung up my chute, that first vivid jump ……  that’s what I think about when the temptation to fear creeps in.       

Success

 

My life is very different now.  I made some monumental changes after this event.  Skydiving became my paradigm for life.  Untethering from my past, like untethering from the plane, letting go and opening up to new adventures, opened doors to new possibilities and new experiences.  Life is more authentic now.  I am not afraid to try new things or to explore new paths as I once was.  Yes, bittersweet or wistful memories do crop up now and then, but I do not regret where I am today.  My life and place in this world is because of consciously letting go of that which was unhealthy and binding.  Today is good.  I am alive and happy again.        

How about you?  Have you ever experienced an “untethering?”  Where are you now?  What doors were opened to you?  I would love to hear your story.