June 16, 2024

AAmidst the fear and uncertainty of the pandemic lockdowns a few years ago, as I walked the neighborhood every dusk, I couldn’t help but notice the small domestic quirks of people I didn’t know and still don’t know. to observe.

Like everyone I found light and meaning and comfort wherever I may. The early evening – like the early morning and lunchtime – walks with my dogs were part of it.

And so I passed the apartment at the same time every night, always in the dark, just like the Stones’ Gimme Shelter at dusk. A little further there was always the woman, wary of my dogs of course, sitting on her fence and usually smoking a cigarette. Every other night, she would stream the same song from her phone, tearfully wailing the words about how the road had gone. was too long and love was just for the lucky and the strong.

There was no shortage of pandemic grief. And too many other feelings besides.

I found something about the candlelight shining in the windows of those apartments and houses to be incredibly soothing in the midst of all the anxiety.

We started burning our own candles at home. Every night. Yes, something about the softness of the shadowy, gently flickering yellow light was calming and reassuring. But it was more than that. It soon became something of a pattern amidst the crumbling routine and then, within weeks, habit. Something about the falling night felt like it wouldn’t be right unless the candles were lit in our living space.

Several years later, the candle custom became a nightly ritual, almost as fundamental as the pleasure of home cooking and eating.

And what is life without its little rituals? The little things that punctuate time as well as bring comfort and joy—a sense of security, perhaps—in a global village full of violent disruption and anxiety?

It’s true that the older I get, the more these little rituals seem to become the framework of continuity. The morning’s tea must be brewed in the yellow pot (tea bags are only for the afternoon) that I bought two decades ago in another city. While I drink that pot-brewed tea, the sheepdog – the most emotional of the pair – has to be repeatedly scratched on her chest and chin. Only then will we all walk for many miles, a ritual of animal-human co-dependence that, while it may seem like a chore at first, never fails to heighten the senses and kick the brain into gear for the day not.

Another habit that has become a ritual: the home must echo ABC Classic music. Only then will the dogs rest (until opera, when ears prick up and they become despondent).

I have friends for whom the daily ritual is an ocean swim, a surf, or a meditation podcast (the latter a habit that helped get me through pandemic lockdowns but didn’t become ritual), to working out or reciting the same poem.

Ritualistic joys, and the sense of calm and, yes, slightly indulgent personal maintenance they bestow on us, can come from all sorts of quarters.

Giving and sharing – a favorite book, a meal, a song, a conversation, a photograph, a special hidden walk through urban woods – can be as or more life-affirming than the more personal rituals. Collectively and perhaps most importantly, they all remind me of how lucky I have been to live in peace and relative prosperity.

In one of my old share houses way back, the week never properly ended without a visit from the housemates to the bar down on the corner. There had to be beers. A few games of pool. Trash talk with the hardened regulars about footy and politics and music. Feather darts.

Something about that ritual stays with me decades later.

When dusk falls on a Friday, it’s time to mix up a negroni at home. And light a candle. The weekend and its special ritualistic joys – the Saturday dressing, once-a-week cooked breakfasts and home-delivered newspapers – don’t begin before me.

Paul Daley is a Guardian Australia columnist

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