My all-time favorite picture of myself hangs on my office wall. It's done in purple crayon on newsprint and finished off with a black-and-gold frame from Wal-Mart.
The reason I like it, aside from the fact that I love the once-little artist, is that it reminds me of a goofy family ritual. Every St. Patrick's Day I bake Irish soda bread, crank up the Chieftains on the stereo and dance the hornpipe in the kitchen. When my daughters were small, they thought this was hysterical fun. Now they just think it's hysterical, but I do it anyway because 1) I like to; 2) my husband gets a kick out of it; and 3) I still can.
When you get right down to it, the fact that we perform a variety of rituals year after year because we like to, and because we still can, may very well be the most important thing there is to know about these repeated acts. Five years ago when I framed the drawing of myself dancing in the kitchen I didn't know this. I just liked the way my skinny little stick legs kick out from my triangle body and the uncanny resemblance my smile bears to the over-sized cups they serve cafe latte in down at the local coffeehouse. But the longer that picture hangs in my office, the clearer it becomes that the traditions that fill our lives with laughter, joy and a sense of the sacred are at the center of the gifts of life, love and family.
Robert Fulghum, author of From Beginning to End: The Rituals of Our Lives (Villard), calls ritual "a frame around the moment." Whether large or small, individual or universal, these repetitive acts whisper, "Hey! Pay attention! This matters!" Sure, my annual St. Patrick's Day dance is, uh, amateurish (I haven't received any invitations to perform with Riverdance). But I'd be willing to bet my gold-buckled hornpipe shoes that long after I'm too old and arthritic to shuffle across the hardwood, the memory of this ritual will linger on. It doesn't matter how corny, ridiculous or boring a ritual may seem to others. If it works for you, it works.1