The Simple Rituals That Bind Us: November 2014

Simple Rituals

The simple rituals are the best. Just ask our dog. After a wet and rainy walk, he finds nothing more comforting than a warm towel on his bed. You can hear his sigh of contentment as he settles into his snug and cozy bed.

Just like Duke, people need rituals to reassure them. Our family has experienced loss over the years during the cool crisp autumn days and I have found an ancient custom that comforts and soothes us. Every year on the day (or as close to the day) of the loss we set up a small altar in memory of the family member: A photograph, a beloved tea cup or trinket, a vase of fresh blooms, scented candles and sticks of incense. On the altar we also place a plate of cooked rice, black sesame seeds and a few handfuls of Bermuda grass (a grass used in Indian rites and luckily for us grows in abundance on our lawn).

Just as the Davis sun is rising over the eastern horizon, we stand before the altar, light the candles and incense and pause a moment to give thanks for having known that person. Then in deep and reverent silence each of us take a handful of the rice, sesame seeds and grass. We scatter the rice in solitude. When my sons were young and living at home they each liked to get on their bikes and go to a secluded orchard or tree grove to scatter the rice mixture while thinking about their grandmother or great uncle. The idea behind the ritual is not only to set aside a day to remember the person who passed away, but also to feed the rice to crows (who in Hindu tradition are believed to be the souls of the dead). There is a deep satisfaction in watching the birds peck the grains off the ground while remembering  my mother or uncle with love and respect.

Whether it is sharing pumpkin pie with your family or watching football together on Thanksgiving Day or feeding the crows of Davis traditional observances and rituals bind us together. It is the simple ones that are the most meaningful, just ask Duke!


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