The word ritual is etymologically associated with a religious service and how the service is conducted, so it is a word normally used in conjunction with institutions. However, many individuals have developed rituals, daily or seasonal, in their personal lives. For instance, one of my favorite rituals is the one of changing-out summer and winter clothes in my closet. Over the years of my seasonal ritual I have enjoyed this act as a mark between the seasons of cold and warm weather; of the occasional surprise when I would switch-out a particular item of clothing, such as a sports coat or sweater, that I had forgotten; or just the simple pleasure derived from moving my clothes of one season from the back to the front of my closet.
But no matter how hard we try to insulate ourselves and control everything of our lives, we have yet to control the seasons. Although the advent of modern HVAC systems helps relieve the heat or cold of seasons, they are still controlled by the changes of seasons; the presence of allergy pills has yet to stop the affects of pollen; and seasonal storms still have wreak havoc on our infrastructure and travel. Yet, while the simple act of changing-out clothes in my closet recognizes and acknowledges the change of the seasons it also grants me some semblance of control because I can determine when and what I wear from last year’s season. For instance, is today, March 19, 2021, the day for my Hawaiian shirts to be moved to the front of my closet and the sweaters put to the back. I’m in control here and am willing to be cold or even look silly if I made a mistake by changing too soon.
So this morning I decided was a good time to change-out my clothes. Being retired, I no longer wear suits and sports coats, so all I have to move is my motley collection of sweaters, Hawaiian shirts, and summer pullovers. Because they are worn only to church and other special occasions, the dress shirts and pants remain where they are. But when I went into the closet, I saw that all the clothes were as I wished them to be for the warmer season. At first I was puzzled, then I realized that I had not changed-out my closet in the fall of 2020.
Last fall was the half-way point of the pandemic: Most of us continued to wear our masks, struggled with remote learning in schools, and remained social distanced along with so many more measures aimed to combat the plague that had killed over 500,000 Americans. It shut me in like so many others, and I had no reason to plan my “wardrobe” for the fall. However, since I am retired, the choice of going nowhere was not a pleasant one, but not stressful like it was for so many others. So I found my warm clothes where they were this time last March when we had begun our efforts to conquer the COVID-19.
Leaving the closet as I had found it, I thought of the sonnet Ozymandias inwhich the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley writes about a statue of a once grand King, Ozymandias, who is now remembered by only “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone” in the desert. Shelley writes “Round the decay/ Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare/ The lone and level sands stretch far away ” to remind us that nature and time will eventually cover our lives like the desert sands cover the reign of a once mighty king.
The virus caused my seasonal ritual of clothes organizing not to be necessary. That is a small thing that I, without thinking, managed. However, will we, a year into the COVID-19, learn to manage it well, or will we be covered by the sands of it?