On most mornings while at the bus stop downtown to catch a Tank Bus over to Northern Kentucky, I see this guy. Like me, he waits for the bus on Fourth and Main. Unlike me he takes the No. 1 bus while I’m waiting for the No. 5.
Before he gets on the bus, with his hands, he makes the sign of the cross. I’m smart enough to know this is a Catholic ritual. That’s all I know. One morning, I got curious about what he was doing. I asked him why he went through this ritual.
“Oh, it’s not a ritual really,” he said. “It’s just a routine I go through to help keep me safe on the bus. I want Jesus to ride with me.”
OK, got it. It's not a ritual but a routine. While waiting for the No. 5 bus to show up, I started thinking about the church, its rituals and Andrea. I wrote about her here a couple weeks ago.
She went to church every Sunday. “It’s my Sunday morning ritual,” she once told me sounding rather proud when she added she hadn’t missed a church service in 20 years.
She considered going to church a ritual. When she said that word, I thought she really meant it was a routine. I also kept my mouth shut thinking it was mostly a bad habit.
The dictionary tells me a ritual is series of acts regularly repeated. A routine is a regular course of procedure. Aren’t these meanings kind of the same? Maybe the meaning of both words is six of one and half a dozen of the other.
I started talking about these word meanings to my neighbor and friend Kathy last week.
The more we talked about them, the more we couldn’t figure it out.
“Maybe it depends on the day of the week,” Kathy said, “how you’re feeling at the time.”
I don’t know, maybe, but now another word has entered the mix.
Friday morning while standing in line at the Wendy’s on Fourth Street to get a cup coffee, I heard the lady in front of me telling the friend that was with her that “I’m in such a rut. I should be going to Starbucks at least some of the time. Their coffee is better.”
After hearing this, I wondered if getting coffee at Wendy’s was at first a ritual for her, then a routine that has now turned into a rut.
That’s how this goofiness started. The above encounters and/or conversations leave questions in my mind. I’m now thinking of my own procedures and habits and what they really are. Are they rituals or routines? I’m in any kind of rut?
In thinking this over, there’s only one true ritual in my life and it has to do with the depression I suffer from and for which I take medication.
Every morning when I wake up and after my coffee is made, I go out on my balcony, sit down on a lawn chair, drink that coffee and look up at the sky. I look at the stars, look at the moon and watch the sun come up. I listen to the birds sing. This is my ritual. This is part of my medicine to remind me how lucky I am to be alive and not take life for granted.
Outside of that, I have plenty of routines, like finishing that first cup of coffee, making my bed, then having that second and final cup of joe.
Before leaving my living space in the morning, I count out my change for the bus to make sure I have enough money to get to and from wherever I’m going. I never want to get caught short.
Doing laundry on Wednesdays and Sundays is a routine. These are the days when I can find the time to work it in.
On days when I need to be out and about, before I leave my living space I always make sure the coffeemaker is off and, because I smoke, I make sure there isn’t a smoldering ashtray anywhere. I don’t really consider this a routine. It’s more like being paranoid that the place will go up in flames while I’m gone.
As far as ruts, I try to give them up. Television was a rut for me for too long, but after Seinfeld stopped running first-run shows, I stopped watching the tube. Also for years my weekly Sunday routine was cleaning my living space. It became a rut and now I clean it whenever I have the time, which lately has been once a month. That’s good enough.
Also, staying in a job when it stops being fun I consider a rut. When the fun stops, it’s time to look for new employment.
Alright, I’m done — hope I didn’t get too goofy on you.
Rituals, routines or whatever you want to call them, I guess, are just part of everyday life. There’s no point in over-analyzing the words. I’ve come to the conclusion everybody uses language differently.
Just so you know, whenever I write a column I usually start it on an early Saturday evening. For this week, I changed it to a Sunday afternoon. Just wanted to shake up the routine and not get into a rut.
CONTACT LARRY GROSS: email@example.com