Well Worn Shoes

I’ve heard the story so many times it almost feels like mine.

The old barn smelled of livestock and oil, wild phlox and clover. The lower level of the barn was full of animals that kept the farm in working order. The main level of the barn was a bit unorthodox. While one side held the farm equipment, the other side was wide open. Wooden floorboards and an abundance of windows made the space appear “finished”. When the lake air wafted in, it almost felt regal.

During the week this barn acted as home base for the struggles of farm life — too many mouths, not enough money, and exhausting work. But on the weekends, the space transformed. All of the locals would find their way to the barn to dance the night away. The lively fiddle and upright piano would play into the wee hours of the morning. Worry would be replaced with laughter and, sooner or later, contented souls would begrudgingly find their way into the crisp air to make their way home.

This was my grandma’s memory.

She is gone now but the farm is still in the family. Pink and purple phlox still grow wild along the house and we still host lively barn dances. It’s become a kind of ritual — a way of making space for something that feels important. We invite our friends, and friends of friends to the farm for the weekend. Live fiddle playing, square dance calling, kayaking, woodsy walks, camping, swimming, eating, bonfires… community. This farm and the barn dance seem to act as a tether, connecting our family and friends to each other and to our roots. Just thinking about it makes me smile.

This ritual, and others I’ve come to love, keep me tied to what is important. They are kind of like “containers” that gently nudge me in one direction or another. Sometimes the smallest ritual creates a ripple that makes a massive impact on the quality of my life.

When I think of it, my rituals really help me in one of three ways. Either they connect me to those I care about, they connect me to myself or they mark an important passage. Our annual barn dance is a perfect example of the first. It has evolved into a great big party. I meet new friends and get to take long walks with old friends. I always leave the weekend feeling full.

It is only in recent years that I’ve built rituals that help me connect to myself. As a mom of three and business owner, I spend a lot of my time caring for others, and I love it. But, if I’m not careful, I begin to lose sight of my own inner voice. The quiet voice that reminds me of who I AM outside of what I DO. For me, this ritual happens in the early morning, alone, with a sketch pad in my lap. The sketches aren’t polished and they aren’t posted to social media to be validated as “liked” or “loved”. They are only mine. A practice I’ve build for the sole purpose of creative expression. This 15 minutes is the most enjoyable part of my day.

Using rituals to mark passages emerged when I became a mother. It is really a way of me planning ahead. When my babies become adults, I want them to reflect fondly on their childhood — reminiscing about “the good old days”. By celebrating passages, we plant markers in time. Markers that make it easy to conjure good memories and feel another ping of happiness. To do this, we host birthday parties to celebrate another year, get henna tattoos to celebrate big life events, and dance around the house listening to carols while we decorate the Christmas tree.

There are as many rituals as there are people practicing them. I think it is the default human condition to want to live “in tune” and rituals create the containers to do that, especially when they feel uniquely YOURS. Wearing someone else’s rituals is a bit like wearing someone else’s shoes. At best, they rub here and there. At worst, their awkward shape causes a clumsy face-plant.

I’ve gone the route of trying to fit into someone else’s rituals:

“You should build in time to write every day.” — I’d rather poke my eyes out with a burning stick.
“You should keep your email closed till noon.” — Just typing that gave me anxiety.
“You shouldn’t drink anything when you eat.” — Wait, what?

Good rituals, YOUR rituals, rarely start with the words: “You should”.

Instead, they bubble up as truths. They are as uniquely yours as the lines on the palm of your hand or those shoes that fit just perfectly. When they find their way into your routine, they feel like home. A ritual may last for generations, like the barn dance, or for only a few months. Either way, they are a tether, grounding you and pulling you forward with equal strength.