Bringing You the Daily Dispatch

The tiny rituals that bring comfort and joy in times of fear and uncertainty | Paul Daley

The tiny rituals that bring comfort and joy in times of fear and uncertainty | Paul Daley

Amid the fear and uncertainty of the pandemic lockdowns a few years ago, as I walked the neighbourhood each twilight, I couldn’t help observe the little domestic quirks of people I didn’t and still don’t know.

Like everyone else I was finding light and meaning and comfort wherever I might. The early evening – like the early morning and lunchtime – walk with my dogs was part of that.

And so I’d pass the apartment, always in darkness, at the same time every evening just as the Stones’ Gimme Shelter pulsed into the dusk. A little further along there was always the woman, obviously wary of my dogs, sitting on her fence and usually smoking a cigarette. Every other evening she’d be streaming the same song from her phone, tearfully wailing the words in sync about how the road had been too long and love was only for the lucky and the strong.

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

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

  • Sign up for a weekly email featuring our best reads

We started burning our own candles about the house. 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 amid the crumbled routine and then, within weeks, habitual. Something about the descending night felt as though it would not be OK unless the candles were burning about our living space.

Several years later the candle habit has become a nightly ritual, nearly as fundamental as the pleasures of home cooking and dining.

And what is life, after all, without its small rituals? The little things that punctuate time, as well as bring comfort and joy – a sense of safety, perhaps – in a global village replete with violent disruption and anguish?

It’s true that the older I get the more these small rituals seem to become the framework of continuity. The morning’s tea needs to be brewed in the yellow pot (teabags are only for the afternoon) I bought two decades ago in another city. As I drink that pot-brewed tea, the sheepdog – the most emotionally sentient of the pair – must be scratched repeatedly on her chest and her chin. Only then will we all walk for many miles, a ritual of animal-human co-dependency that, while it can seem a chore at the outset, never fails to elate the senses and kick the brain into gear for the day.

Another habit that’s become a ritual: the house must resound to ABC Classical music. Only then will the dogs settle (until opera comes on, when ears prick and they become antsy).

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 has not become ritualistic), working out or reciting the same poem every day.

Ritualistic joys, and the sense of calm and, yes, slightly indulgent personal maintenance they gift us, can spring from all sorts of places.

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

In one of my old share houses way back the week never seemed to properly end without a visit by the housemates to the pub down on the corner. There had to be beers. A few games of pool. Trash talk with the diehard regulars about footy and politics and music. Darts.

Something about that ritual remains with me decades later.

When twilight arrives on a Friday, it’s time to mix a negroni at home. And light a candle. The weekend and its special ritualistic joys – the Saturday lie-in, once a week cooked breakfast and home-delivered newspapers – doesn’t start ’til I do.

Source: theguardian.com