We are all, to a degree, creatures of habit. I was thinking of this when I was reading a response to one of my blogs from one of my favorite Medium writers, Jon Scott, who remarked about “his spot” waiting for the train. Especially now, at the time of the plague, habitual behaviors and rituals can ease our worrisome days into gentler routines.
This morning, Bella, our black dog, jumped up on the bed while I was still asleep. Bella is very much a dog of routine. When my husband gets up, he gathers her and our other dog, Toffee, and goes downstairs with them. This is when Toffee immediately goes outside for her first pee of the day (one of many) — but not Bella. Bella waits until she gets fed, then, after finishing breakfast, she goes outside to do her business — she is a long-peeing dog — where as Toffee will pee five times a day, Bella is good with two long, daily pees (like a man between innings at the baseball game). Then she comes back in, checks her food bowl (you can never tell, what if some food miraculously showed up there again?), checks to make sure that Toffee finished her breakfast from her bowl (she did), then goes back upstairs. Upstairs, she does one of two things — either gets in bed with my daughter, or with me, while Jeff takes a shower. If she gets in bed with Riva, she curls up against her. If she gets in bed with me, she expects to be loved, even if it means she has to use her nose to get under my arm.
Bella is not a small dog. She weighs more than 70 pounds, has a giant lab head (mix of several other breeds, to be sure) and rather small-ish lab legs — I think she’s eggplant-shaped, Jeff thinks she’s more potato-like. I sleepily rub her ears, then go for where she loves to be scratched most of all — her armpits. She accommodates by tilting a bit to her right and lifting the left leg a bit, creating more space for me to rub. Bella enjoys this, but typically shows no emotions (unlike Toffee, who telegraphs each thought she has, and has the most expressive eyebrows known to animal kingdom). Bella usually just stares straight ahead — her expressions running the gamut between wooden and stony. The only difference is when her eyes grow round and large (when Jeff is around serving food) or when her eyes grow small and sleepy when she is enjoying a good rubbing.
But since it’s still only about 6 a.m., and I want to sleep for another three to four hours (don’t judge, my latest routine involves me going to bed around midnight), I soon give up, roll over away from Bella and, most importantly, hide my arm under the sheet, so she can’t snootch her powerful nose under my elbow. Presented with my back, Bella now has another choice to make. She could snuggle down next to me, or she could go to Riva’s bed. At this point, it’s 50/50.
I’ve noticed that I, too enjoy certain routines. All right, all my routines. For example, as much as I enjoy my booze, I don’t drink before 5 p.m. in the afternoon. This is completely arbitrary, a rule I break only rarely when I join my husband for a beer with lunch out on a weekend, but as far as wine or liquor goes, I just don’t like to drink before evening, which seems like a healthy habit. Even my morning routine has to be pretty much automatic, since I find it difficult to think in the mornings. I get up, make the bed, brush my teeth with the toothbrush held in my left hand (for creativity — it’s good to do something with your non-dominant hand), drink a cup of cold water and take a shower. And every night, I brush my teeth, floss, put on face cream, put on Carmex, crawl into bed and read for as long as I am able. Those practices are important to me, they allow me to wake up and go to sleep on an automatic, regular basis. When I am sick and stay in bed too long or nap in the afternoon, and cannot follow these steps, I feel not only lousy physically, but also out of sorts and discombobulated mentally.
I take the same route to the grocery store, to the library, to the gas station. God forbid I should look to my left in a place I’ve never looked left before. I become lost in the neighborhood I’ve lived in for the past two decades.
Every day, usually as soon as I wake up, I call my parents. We check in to find how everyone is feeling, whether we needed avocados or bananas from Costco, and what we are having for supper.
There are some things, everyday, ordinary things, that can become rituals heightened to the state of holiness, if we bring attention to them, and do them on the regular basis. Something about lighting a candle, even a small tea light, that can feel sacred. For me, focusing on my breath and slowing it down, even for as long as 5 minutes per day, can lighten my spirit.
Say it with me, my readers, routines are wonderful. Let us practice our habits (the good ones) to the fullest degree they are allowed, in the particular restrictive moment in time. This, too, shall pass.