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rit-u-al: any practice or pattern of behaviour regularly performed in a set manner

rou-tine: a customary or regular course of procedure

rut: a fixed or established mode of procedure or course of life, usually dull or unpromising

My life has been anything but predictable. As a child, I went to seven different schools in the second grade. I had five step-fathers and I’m on my fourth husband. I once left the house to go to the store for milk and came home with a new car.  (All true.)

Maybe that’s why, as a grownup, I so enjoy some visibility into my schedule and some predictability in my life. There is a certain comfort and contentment in knowing what life has in store. (Thanks for nothing, RA…)

Then add in the fact that I’m a micro-managing control freak. Being unorganized and/or unplanned does not work well for me. That doesn’t mean I’m not spontaneous — quite the contrary. It’s just that when I wake up one morning and decide to go throw rocks in the lake, I pretty much know what kind of wine I’ll have packed in my picnic hamper.

I think all of us have those processes that help us get through the day, the week, the month — especially for the recurring stuff. We’ve figured out a way to get things done that works and those processes let us accomplish a great deal without the stress of reinventing things every time. We drop off and pick up the kids, we take the same traffic routes to work, we shop for groceries on the same day. Let school out early or have a major tie up on the freeway and all hell breaks loose with the rest of our lives.

I tend to have this stuff down to split-second timing. Monday through Friday, from the time my feet hit the floor at exactly 6:45 am until I back out of the garage at 7:30, I know exactly what I have to do, in what order, to get bathed, shampooed and conditioned, dried, moisturized, made up, blown dry, dressed, and out the door. On a weekly basis, Sunday is the day for catching up the house, cooking for the week, doing laundry, and watching NASCAR or football. Wednesday is Enbrel night. Saturday is movie and dinner date night. Holidays have their own patterns.

One of the Dallas Cowboys was talking about nutrition the other day. He said that during training and in-season he eats and drinks exactly the same thing every day, and he listed every meal. He said that he expects his body to perform the same way every day, so it was only logical that his body got the same mix of fuel and nutrients every day. To me that sounds pretty boring, but hey, he makes millions of dollars a year with this, so who am I to criticize? It works for him.

So what’s the difference between a ritual, a routine, and a rut?

If you go down the scale, I’d say it’s probably boredom, with the rut being on the bottom. If you go up the scale, it’s interest level or specialness.

I also think that rituals have a purpose (which is more than I can say about this post).

If you think about religious rituals or even beauty rituals, you’re doing something special to accomplish a goal. You pay attention. You’re careful. You do certain things in a certain order in a certain way. You use special instruments or materials.

Routines are more of an efficient process. A routine commute gets you to work on time. An exercise routine burns off calories effectively. It is a structure to get you from point A to point B without a lot of thinking.

And I think we all know what ruts are.

When I first started taking TNF blocker injections for my RA (first Humira, then Simponi, now Enbrel), I had a whole ritual that involved taking the medicine out of the refrigerator, getting my alcohol swabs ready, unfurling the bandaid, etc. etc. Now I’m more likely to grab it, pop it, and go.

This makes me wonder if the difference between rituals, routines, and ruts is our perspective. We’re amazed at our child’s first steps, then just months later fuss at them for running through the house.

And while this is not necessarily a “stop and smell the roses” post, perhaps we should look at our ruts and routines and take a minute to understand how precious some of those hidden rituals are. Maybe turn off all the cell phones and iPods when you take the kids to school and just talk to each other. Say a little thank you prayer when you take that RA medication that you live in a world with medical miracles and in a country where most of us have access to affordable health care. Appreciate the ability to walk and stand and stretch and reach, because those of us with RA may not always be able to do those things.

One of my most enjoyable rituals is writing this blog. I appreciate those of you who enjoy reading it. Thanks for checking in.