September 09, 2006


When I sit down to eat a meal with Steve - when the plates are full - of colour, of potential, and full of life - we kiss.

I don't know how we started this ritual or when. But I remember the first time I witnessed it.

I was in a restaurant, almost ten years ago, on a tiny island called Bequia in the Grenadines. I'd been invited to dinner by a couple from Berlin I'd been hanging out with. He was a writer. She was an artist. They always kissed before they ate. It was beautiful.

And now somehow it's our ritual.

I have come to respect rituals - more than I ever did before. Rituals seemed stuffy and disconnected, dead and meaningless.

Then age and experience hits back, hard. And I think it's my answer to finding joy when bad stuff is lurking. Marking life moments of my own choosing - it makes me stop to look at beauty.

Like...I understand people who celebrate both sunrise - I'm with them in spirit, though not often in person - and sunset. Although I've seen dolphins break the surface of the Ganges at sunrise, and I've watched the day break over the Himalayas and been running in mid-January as the sun rose to conquer the windchill in Toronto - and I've also watched the sun set in Key West, just under the Golden Gate Bridge, and slip behind the ocean's edge in Thailand. Humans always gravitate to those moments. Something in us knows they're profound - everyone is quiet, alone in themselves.

They're moments of greatness - bigger than us.

My favourite rituals are self made. They find a moment to celebrate life. They're not imposed by outside powers, not to save our souls. Just a chance to take note of stuff that counts.

Dinner is a daily ritual I love. There are no distractions. The TV is off, there are no books, no magazines, no last minute ends of chapters. Dinner is our time. The end of our day when we come together again, away from the connection with the outside world. And kiss.

I definitely had to mature into that.

We're of the generation after all, when it was a huge deal to have a "colour" tv - when tv dinners came out of the kitchen on tv trays with fold out legs (mine had a happy face). That ritual was groovy and far out...

And, for me, the noise filled a hole.

It was just Mum and I for dinner. I was the only person I knew whose parents had split. My brother died in a car accident when I was seven and our relatives were all in England. So when I look back on it, it was a time of being lost and trying to find a place where we belonged. A time of looking for ritual without knowing it.

Auntie Joan is my second Mum; my Mum's best friend. She'd invite us over to her part of town on weekends. There were lots of people, lots of love, there was lots of noise, tons of great food. Out came the linen, the silverware, the silver serving dishes.

We were all terribly polite and considerate. Please and thank you's every which way. No one would think of rising from the table before everyone was finished. And the conversation and laughter flowed like wine. I craved a large family, I thrived here, and I wanted to fit in.

Rituals connect us, sometimes willingly, sometimes not.

My friends have talked about dinner rituals - Andy comes from a family of ten children - their dinners sounded more like blood sport for seconds. Another friend was the only girl with older brothers - she had to get them seconds and then clean up. Ugh.

Others, whose family stories were just bloody entrails of cruelty and dislike, disappointment and indignity, often suffered - but sometimes they remade their rituals and their "families", gathering friends around them.

Some of my male friends talk about the time they initiated their manhood, when they were given the carving knife and faced down the Thanksgiving turkey - with an even balance between victory and defeat.

My friend Kathilee who grew up on the Prairies, made it a rule that her young daughter can leave food on her plate, but not food that died for her - which I love.

Even the rituals away from the table can be meaningful - like pizza-and-movie-Fridays.

From all of this, there is meaning greater than the meal itself. Like cooking, the food is greater than the sum of its ingredients.

When I started thinking about this, I realized I equated rituals with what I didn't have - they were defined by big families, lots of children, legacy and connection. And that I'd never get it.

Not long ago I realized rituals are what we make them. And I also realized people who seem to have it all sometimes miss out on the opportunity that belonging brings. They never think about it.

I can find joy where I choose to. Even if it's setting the table just for me - candles, a wine glass, a full up colourful dinner full of potential and life...

Dinner is a celebration of sustenance - my choice to manifest joy.

It turns out I belong and had always done so.


Yesterday in a newish daily ritual we walked in the nearby ravine (accompanied by the steady roar of a highway that punctuates the valley's eastern edge) - and for the first time in the 30 years I've lived in Toronto I turned and looked straight into the eyes of a doe. And a few metres on, the eyes of her still-spotted fawn. Cyclists blasted past us determined to get in shape, cars whizzed behind us on the highway's offramp at Bloor Street. We just stopped. And we stared at her, and she at us, until she decided the greenery was far more interesting. The last I saw of her, her white back end was disappearing into the branches for dinner.


1 comment:

Julie said...

Nice thoughts about making rituals and taking a "moment to celebrate life." Your kiss before dinner is a lovely ritual, as is sitting down to eat and talk together at the end of the day.