The beauty of routine

I have this dress. It is lovely, made out of great fabric and in a structured, impeccable cut — potentially perfect except that somebody decided, almost as an afterthought (a totally senseless one if I may say so), to add clusters of tassels sporadically stitched to the short sleeves. If I wear it as is, I will look like I am a band majorette in a parade, no offense meant. So there I was at 1 a.m., about to take a shower when I spied it looking at me from its hanger, the same spot where it has been at for maybe over three months already. I got out my smallest pair of pointy scissors and proceeded to cut off clump after clump of tiny tassels. My daughter walked in on me slouched over the dress and proceeded to help. We snipped here and there, allowing the dress to be beautiful in its simplicity. As we progressed, we talked. As we worked with our hands, conversation flowed fluidly. In one fell swoop she told me about Justin Bieber, the girl who bullies her in school for no reason at all, what she wants to be when she grows up (it changes by the week), her fear of icebergs melting and drowning earthlings like us. I found myself wishing there were more and more tassels to get rid of, if only to stretch the conversation longer. I know one day she will remember us poring over that dress in our dressing room, at a very odd hour, but more than that she will, I hope, remember not so much what we talked about but how we talked, how easy it was between us.

I look back to that moment as I write this now and I think, maybe that is why women get together — to knit, to play mahjong, to quilt and crochet and cook — to get their hands busy, basically. Maybe also that is the appeal of having coffee or making tea and sipping it. It is never just about that. This random, gentle busyness that routines offer are lessons in grace and restraint. It allows you to step back and think things through in a way that does not add unnecessary pressure.

I think I am at that grownup stage when I can be fully grateful for its charm. I can see its true meaning, be buoyed by its gentle rhythm, as it takes me from point to point in a way that is definitely less frazzled. Busy work is a coping mechanism. More than that, it is a grounding one. Every day we have to come to terms with something; even on the best of days we deal with life’s circumstance. While some resort to cutting hair drastically short or renovating a room, a gentler way to process a change, any change, would be to wash dishes, bake pies, make tea. Yes, everyday things just like that.

Routines make for calmer people. And I’d like to think calm people lead calm lives, or at least live more calmly. I remember a sad episode I experienced. It all seems so

far away now, but back then I think I baked enough chocolate chip cookies to feed a small village. I’d read through recipe after recipe, choosing one at random, falling in love with words like “milk” and “flour” and “baking soda” and the promise of that tangible pleasant something it conjured in my knotted thoughts. It was my immediate pot of gold at the end of a difficult rainbow. It was a source of comfort for me. I’ve always liked baking but at that particular time, I needed it. I needed to do it. I was too frightened to be left with just my thoughts. I was too crippled to do much else. Baking was activity enough: productive yet gentle, requiring nothing more than that I give it some measure of focus. And because the activity was so familiar, it was not difficult to do just that.

At another time when I was dealing with something not exactly pleasant in its entirety, I found comfort in drawing and coloring chairs. Sofas, stools, wooden numbers with curved back rests: I would make them pop out of blank paper, working on them for hours on end, stopping only to eat, and sleep, and take a shower. It allowed me to process my thoughts, afforded me precious time to gather courage and face my fears and uncertainties. Through these, I had a silent plea that no one would make the mistake of asking me to stop. All I could think of as I progressed from page to page, hour after hour into the wee hours of the morning was “Please. Don’t ask me to stop. I have to keep on doing this.” Never mind if no one ever ate my cookies, or liked my colorful chair illustrations. I was doing it for myself, for my own version of calm.

It has been said that in the olden times making and enjoying tea was a ritual you did for more than just the purpose of enjoying the taste of the select blend of leaves. You would steep the leaves, enjoy the scent and flavor, pour the brew in pretty cups, and sip slowly. Whether someone was in front of or beside you or not, and you were just alone, whether there was music playing in the background or you were just having a conversation with yourself in your mind, for that moment at least there was something more immediately important than your life’s worries. It made for a clearer mind, and consequently more positive thoughts.

It is during these quiet times, as you allow yourself to melt into routines, that life feels more temperate than it actually is and sometimes, that is all you need to get through just one more day. It is all you need to be able to put one foot in front of the other. As you retreat back into yourself you alternately allow yourself a view of the bigger picture. You are able to put everything in perspective and then you thankfully become a speck again — just one beautiful speck in the greater scheme of things and you realize that not everything is about you or your problem or your worries. The world is so much bigger than that; life is so much greater than just that.

It is the small things that you must do that keep you going when everything else inside and around you screams for you to stop. It is these small, mundane things that fuel you to keep at it as you work towards the bigger plans you may have.

Routines. I am so glad I have to take on bits and pieces of you every day. Thank you for always giving me that generous time to process what is, and what will/could be. I am grateful for that. You do your part in keeping hope afloat. It is during those seemingly nothing moments that I am able to decide, whether to retreat or forge on or sometimes, do nothing at all and just wait for things to work itself out. Because oftentimes, really, that is all there is to it. It just has to happen and pass through. Thank you for affording me the chance to breathe and be less impulsive and spontaneous, and in that you sense I feel I am wiser, or at the very least I am able to proceed and /or carry on with some semblance of it.


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