"Rituals and Rhythms" (Essay)

Today we walked our long-familiar village sidewalk up to school to begin a new adventure in 3rd grade. As we reach the blacktop at the end of our gravel road, we can see the old one-room school built by the Quakers in 1810. Walking to school in the village has probably been a ritual here for over 200 years.

Over the weekend we went back to Philadelphia to visit one of my wife's favorite uncles - her "Tio Lindo". It was our first trip back since last summer when her mom passed away, so it was naturally bittersweet and emotional. Her tio went to Spain earlier this summer and had visited some of my wife's distant cousins (her grandmother's cousins to be precise). It turns out that roughly a quarter of my wife's family history comes from this one medieval village on the Spain-Portugal border that has likely been there for over 2,000 years.

While undoubtedly Fermoselle has the usual influx and outflow of people with each generation, this small community perched on a canyon rim has survived intact through plagues, wars, witch hunts and who knows what else. The local vintner's family has been growing grapes and making wine there since 1732, which was around the time my village here in Virginia was founded.

There are of course myriad differences between the 21st century and anything that has come before. But the seasons march on unabated, regardless of the human dramas that play out on their stages over the centuries. And come the first hints of autumn blowing in on a warm harvest wind, it is time for the ritual of returning to school.

There is no one left in my village who lived here 100 years ago. But I am sure that there are rhythms to our time that would have more than a hint of familiarity - the return to school, the harvest, Thanksgiving, and Christmas season in the village. To me this is an oddly comforting notion, for reasons I can't quite put my finger on. I simply chalk it up in the basic premise that we humans tend to derive some comfort from rituals, formal and mundane. Creatures of habit, we dance to those familiar rhythms as we tilt back and forth and revolve around the sun, even as we are fully absorbed by the demands and distractions of our daily lives. Our bodies notice the change in the angle and length of the light, even if we remain unaware.

Like each of those people before us in Lincoln and in Fermoselle, we all pass milestones while we live and breathe and experience the miracle and mystery of life on this earth. Today we passed a small one; the halfway point in Madeleine's elementary school career. This was our 4th first day to school walk - two more hopefully remain. When we walked into the house talking excitedly about her experience she blurted out, "I didn't want Day 1 to end!" I know what she means.

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