Today I paid homage to an almost-holy relic from my distant past–the cheese sandwich.
This consists of real, mushy white bread–preferably Wonder–with one slice slathered with Hellmann’s mayonnaise. On top of the mayonnaise lay three to four thin slices of a juicy tomato, lightly salted and topped with two to three slices of Land O’Lakes American cheese. A second slice of white bread rests on top, and then the sandwich is cut in half through the short center, not –and this is key to the whole sandwich dynamic– through the long center to create two floppy wide halves or–much worse–from corner to corner to create triangles. The goal is to have two short, stubby sandwich halves that can easily be held and controlled.
I made one for breakfast this morning, and it was delicious, mostly because I smiled the entire time.
To be truly authentic, the sandwich would need to be wrapped in foil, thrown in a “Happy Days” lunchbox and left to sit in the closet in the back of the (non-air-conditioned) classroom for several hours so that the mayo and tomato juices soak into the bread. However, as an adult, I’ve learned of the inevitability of sacrifice.
I’ve also learned about the importance of ritual.
I ate a cheese sandwich for lunch every single day of second grade, even though I could have purchased a hot something-or-other from the aqua-colored cafeteria at St. Anthony’s Catholic School in the Bronx or happily toted mom’s famous eggplant parmigiana or meatball subs. But I chose my cheese sandwich.
I guess it was comforting to know what was waiting for me, to not be surprised by a last-minute switcharoo. That sandwich was the official break in my day, a yummy treat that marked the halfway point in the school day.
I had unknowingly created my first ritual. And I think I’ve been creating new rituals ever since.
Last year I read a book by Eric Maisel, called The Creativity Book, that suggested creating a ritual that would signal the start of a creative period in your day. He suggested ringing a loud bell and yelling something about wanting to create. This didn’t work for me. However, he made me realize the importance of formalizing times and actions.
We all have rituals, even if we don’t call them that. Most of us have morning rituals–when I work from home I must fix my hair and drink a cup of coffee before I can start reading work emails. Before I go to bed at night, I must read, in bed, from a novel, until I fall asleep. When I come home from work, I must wash my face, take off my bra and put on comfortable clothes. On Sunday morning, I must read The New York Times before I do anything else. Most of you with children have special practices before their bedtimes, and most of us have habits before or after romantic relations.
But there are some rituals I am still searching for: one that signifies the beginning of creative writing time–something to help me focus and motivate me to begin–and one to end my Sunday nights–something to relax me, celebrate the last of the weekend, and energize me for the week ahead. Right now I end the weekend by just mourning the passing of my days-off, so the need for a transition activity is clearly obvious.
“Ritual” has a religious ring to it, but in reality, isn’t it about formalizing a certain time or action? We have no problem practicing rituals when they are known as traditions–Thanksgiving turkey, Christmas trees, Passover seders, Fourth of July fireworks–but we overlook the benefit of making something seemingly ordinary (but still important to us) a sacred practice–the first tomato salad of the summer, a living room dance party to kick off Friday night, hot chocolate when it starts to snow. Declaring something a ritual makes it special, memorable and important–just one way to make sure days don’t pass by in a blur without significance or joy.
You may see a cheese sandwich on my plate but I see the memories of a ritual practice. Or slight obsessive-compulsive disorder. Whatever.