I was seated in the Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, Ohio. I was surrounded by a sea of fans wearing red jerseys, red jackets and red hats with a big “C”. I proudly sang the National Anthem, with my right hand over my heart. I eagerly watch my hometown team, The Cincinnati Reds, march out on the perfectly manicured green field. Monday was Opening Day for The Cincinnati Reds – one of my most favorite days of the year. And once again, I was so fortunate to be in the stands with part of my family.
My eight year-old grandson, Charlie, was there that day too – jumping around with glee. Energized by the crowds swarming around us. On our walk from the parade to the stadium, I grabbed his hand and pulled him aside. “Charlie,” I said, “before the game starts, I want you to think about something. Do you know what the word ritual means?”
He looked at me blankly – I’m sure momentarily annoyed at being held back from partaking in the swirling action all around us.
“Ritual is something we do over and over again,” I explained patiently but emphatically. A habit, a custom. Like saying your prayers before you go to bed every night. Like what you are doing this very day – spending the afternoon with your daddy, your grandpas, your Uncle Lou and me. Like seeing all the pre-game festivities – people walking on stilts tossing out balls – groups of real men dressed in old fashioned Red Legs’ uniforms snapping pictures with fans. Like your daddy buying you a brand new Reds jersey. Like sitting in the stands with him and eating two cheeseburgers in a row.”
His eyes lit up. He got it.
“Remember that word,” I urged him and hugged him hard. Now repeat to me what a ritual is.”
“Something you do over and over again, Nana.”
“You got it,” I cheered. And I let go of his hand as he eagerly ran back to his dad.
I couldn’t shake the idea of ritual from my mind. All during the game – munching on the salty peanuts, taking a few sips of my husband’s beer, hugging hard Kathy – one of the servers I see every game that I attend. The word “ritual” stuck in my brain – noodling around aimlessly. Ritual. Ritual. Ritual.
Hours after the late afternoon game, I sat with my mom at her kitchen table mourning the Reds Opening Day loss. While I had been at the game, she had gotten out clippings she had saved from WW2 – when my dad was a ball turret gunner. And we were looking through those too. Poking out from the clippings on bombing raids by B-17’s over Germany, a little red, white and blue booklet caught my eye. Entitled “A Short Guide to Great Britain,” it was issued by the War and Navy Departments for use by military personnel only. Passed around in the 1940’s to all soldiers being shipped overseas, it clearly instructed our fighting forces being transported to Britain on proper attitude, conduct and behavior when interacting with British soldiers and civilians.
I was captivated by the following statement on Page 21: At home in America, you were in a country at war. Since your ship left port, however, you have been in a WAR ZONE.
Conversely, we at the present time in the United States of America are NOT at war, but we ARE living in a WAR ZONE. We worry when we pick-up baggage at an airport if we will be gunned down by a random shooter. We worry when we go to the movies and the mall. When we run a marathon. Drop off our kids at school. We are surrounded by the constant threat of violence. And although we are fortunate enough, unlike the Brits during WW2, not to be bombed night after night, to face constant shortages of clothes and food and soap, we too have shortages – of peace of mind and security.
Ah! I get it now – why the concept of ritual kept pulling at me all day at the ball park.
Rituals are important. Rituals – the action of doing something again and again in a prescribed way – allow us to assert some control in a world that too often seems out of control. And rituals remind us that a new day always brings the possibility of better beginnings – even when the first batter up on the opposing team hits a home run. And we ultimately lose 4 to 3.