Today I have the blinds open. Normally the morning sun’s heat makes such a thing unwise, but today the sun is intermittent, muted by an overcast sky that reaches all the way to the ground with a gray haze from the Saharan dust cloud that has now hovered over North Texas for the last few days. Occasionally the oak floor stripes golden as the sun works its way through, brightens, then recedes again.
I fixed an açaí bowl this morning, something I make a point not to do on Sundays. It’s a pleasure reserved for Saturdays, after a walk around the lake. Today, to make clear the distinction, I rode my bike first instead.
A month ago, as the state began to reopen, my son left my home and returned to work in his own place after three months of shared isolation here. And yet, the practices we developed together have mostly stayed the same, just without the in-person companionship.
Over the weeks of sheltering-at-home, we measured time with ritual. I’m convinced it’s a good part of what made it possible to share space—a one-bedroom apartment—with two people, neither of whom prefer to work from home. No coffee shop to retreat to. No office to report to. Just dueling Zoom conferences from opposite corners, trying to coordinate bandwidth, volume and visibility.
Each morning, we walked a portion of the lake together before we logged onto our virtual offices. During the limited alone time we had, we listened to podcasts or read articles that we discussed on our walks. Sometime during the day, one of us would cut open an apple and leave the remainder on the cutting block. We’d watch it slowly disappear as the day went on, a sliver or slice or chunk at a time. One of us (not me) would leave at the end of the work day for a run. When he returned, we’d start chopping vegetables or forming moistened masa de harina into tortillas for the griddle or sautéing shrimp or tofu or broccolini. Sometime earlier in the day, one of us would have found a new recipe, probably at the New York Times for a new thing we could try, with a little improvisation, using the ingredients we had on hand. After dinner we walked the lake again, sometimes bringing our tablets along to read on the far side in the waning sun. And then we’d sleep, wake up, and do it again.
On the weekends, we’d get groceries. Friday night, we’d bring in pizza. All of these practices were ordered—followed gently, kindly, but consistently.
Ritual’s pinnacle, though, was the açaí. On Saturday mornings we walked, always in search of a new path or landmark or curiosity along the way. We’d stop for coffee on the way back home, and then get to work blending frozen fruits and trying to outdo each other arranging toppings like granola, toasted coconut, cacao nibs, peanut butter and berries for the most Instagrammable frosted bowl.
On Wednesdays, some time during the day, one of us would announce that we were “half way to açaí.” An unspoken rule prevented us from mentioning it on Tuesday, or Thursday. It was the anticipation of this delight, yes, that made the week go faster. But also the ritual of it. The care in the preparation. The açaí’s place among the set things, at set times, that somehow enabled three months to pass without incident.
But it was reserved for Saturdays. And today, a Sunday, after three weeks of continuing the practice by myself (we swap photos by text), I broke the ritual order and repeated it two days in a row.
Saturday açaí was born of a covid lockdown ritual designed to mark the weeks. Today, it seems, it was intended to mark the next phase of our life in the midst of the pandemic. After weeks of emerging from its lockdown cocoon, Texas has rolled back some of its progressive openings, as cases have surged past our previous peak levels. Bars have been ordered to shutter again, hoping to drive the hardest hit by this latest iteration of the virus’s spread, 20- and 30-somethings, back inside. Restaurants have been ordered back to 50 percent capacity, an unsustainable economic calculation. Masks are fashionable again (or, at least, compliance is) amongst those who go out. The bike and jogging path outside my home (which is used mostly for walking) is populated with singles and pairs of people again, the growing clumps of folks out over the last weeks dispersed as vigilance is, thankfully, renewed.
Ritual will need to sustain us a bit longer here. Set things. Set times. Intention. Açaí (and tacos) goes a long way.
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Ritual: a thing to look forward to again and again. . . So, one of the things that has made this strange time work in my tiny home has been structure. Set things at set times on set days. One of those is the Saturday morning tofu scramble and acai bowl ritual. It is truly a thing-a marvelously small thing-to look forward to. On Wednesdays we say to ourselves, “We’re halfway to acai day.” It’s true. The weeks go faster. More earnestly. We prepare food very consciously, down to the peanut butter bed under the bananas. And with the food we have on hand. . I’m not known for my dexterity in the kitchen. But simple meals, made intentionally with the ingredients on hand (thanks, @tspoetry, for Rumors of Water) and arranged happily on a plate seems to make for better days. And for extra fun? We often use multiple small plates instead of just one. Trust me, you have time enough to wash the dishes. . . Structure. Routine. Intention. Arranged around things that stimulate the mind and senses: Ritual. . . Also. Tacos don’t hurt. . . Fin.
Photo by Brian,Creative Commons license via Flickr. Post by Will Willingham.