My father passed away 22 years ago today. . .six days before Halloween. Last week, it popped into my head that I wanted to do something special to honor him.
Here's my idea: As those of you who have heard me speak recently know, I am in the second year of an interfaith/interspiritual seminary program in New York City. The focus of this, our final year, is ritual and ceremony.
I did not grow up involved in a church that had any particular religious ceremonies or regular rituals, but I’ve always been drawn to them. I’ve just never known why. Whenever I travel, not only do I love watching ceremonies of any kind, but I also participate in as many I can. Lighting candles, tea ceremonies, tying ribbons. You name it, I’ve tried it. I love it! I just never had any clue where I picked up this penchant.
But this year, as I’ve been talking more about my family life while celebrating the fiftieth anniversary edition of my parents’ iconic cookbook, I’ve come to realize that the Prices had many many traditions that felt very much like rituals and ceremonies.
Here are a few that I particularly loved while growing up, many of which I have carried on in my adult life:
Saying Thank You: My mother came to the United States after growing up in England, Wales, China, and Canada. She was filled with gratitude for her life in this country, and expressed her thanks however she could. Thanksgiving was her favorite holiday, but she taught me early the importance of expressing gratitude the other 364 days a year.
Here’s one example: We traveled a lot as a family, and spent a lot of time in hotel rooms. At the end of every stay, we always turned back and thanked our room. I still do it, and I have added a blessing for whomever will come next. It not only feels like a sweet connection to my childhood, but more importantly, it makes me feel connected to where I am and not likean itinerant wanderer who just goes from one unfamiliar place to another. I have extended it to rental cars, airplanes, and many other supposedly inanimate objects. Perhaps that sounds silly to you, but to me, it makes me feel like everything is connected in one beautiful energetic dance.
My dad had lots of cute rituals that I loved as a kid: Holding your breath when driving through tunnels, skipping rocks into the waves, tossing a penny into a fountain and making a wish. He had cute little poems or turns of phrases for many things. For example, whenever he saw a pelican, he could not help himself. He intoned: “What a wonderful bird is the pelican. His beak can hold more than his belly can.”
And then, of course, there’s Bread and Butter: As anyone who knows me knows, although I am not superstitious at all, I have never been able to break myself of my dad’s superstition of having to say Bread and Butter when one person walks on one side of an object that’s taller than them and the other person on the other side. He told me that you’d get into an argument if you didn’t, and since he and I inherited my compulsive conflict avoidance from him, I make everyone say it so that nothing comes between us. Because, you see, both people HAVE to day it or it doesn’t work! Complete strangers, famous people, new clients — I make everyone say it. And I probably always will. . .At this point, it is not really about the superstition at all. It is something that connects me to my dad and starts a dialogue of a different kind — even if it’s my best friend’s refusal to conform and waiting for her creative comeback: Chalk and Cheese, Peanut Butter and Chocolate. She professes annoyance, but I guarantee she would miss it if I didn’t do it! Which makes me realize that sometimes ritual is one of the few throughlines from our childhood to adulthood connecting us to our entire lives as well as rippling out to the lives of those around us.
The Prices were and are a family who love/d a special occasion, and one of the best things about special occasions is the familiarity of their repetition year after year. On Christmas, we always had sweet rolls from the same Hungarian bakery. This was a big deal because my mother would have locked me in my room before she let me have something as decadent as a sweet roll any other day of the year. But instead of feeling deprived, it just made Christmas morning more special. Everything about Christmas had a particular rhythm and order. I loved it as a kid. Now I don’t celebrate Christmas with gifts or a special meal at all. Instead I consciously choose spend a quiet day alone connecting with myself, my dogs, the true Spirit of Christmas, and — as I do every day — with Nature. Until about 4PM. At which point I treat myself to something that feels totally decadent! One year it was binge-watching Game of Thrones. Another year, I curled up in front of the fire and read two whole novels. My new ritual is a gift of a whole day of quiet connection— and it is an invitation to let that Love ripple out for the rest of the year.
All our family holidays had their unique rhythm or special treats -- and, of course, color-coordinated clothing for every occasion! Serving black olives on Thanksgiving!! My mother’s Easter ham studded with cloves. Ornate cakes that celebrated the arrival of a new dog or a friend from another country. Even our pug wore different color ruffs for special days. And every Friday after school, we went for ice cream!
Come to think of it, there were lots of food rituals. But one which I still remember sweetly came from my mom. She always made my lunch to take to school. I’ll be honest: There were many days I wished she hadn’t. She felt bread was a mortal enemy, and so she made my sandwiches with something called Pepperidge Farm very thin bread, which was 40 calories a slice. I left home at 6AM and rode the public bus two hours to school every day. Which meant that, by the time lunch rolled around, whatever sandwich she had made had usually seeped through the bread and was a horrible soggy mess. The fact that that mess was often deviled chicken just made it all the worse. But Fridays were the exception. On Fridays, my lunch was always packed in a white (not brown) lunch bag, with a bright yellow happy face which said HAVE A NICE DAY! (She must have bought out the supply in Southern California, because this took place every Friday for six years!) And in that Friday lunch bag was my favorite sandwich of the week — soggy or no: A peanut butter and honey sandwich. I loved that ritual, and though my days of peanut butter and honey sandwiches are long gone, I still stop on Friday afternoons to acknowledge the end of another work week with gratitude!
Then there were those seemingly inexplicable rituals. . .My dad was incapable of walking by any perfume counter without dousing himself with whatever he happened to pick up first. Sometimes the effect was pleasant. Other times is was deeply toxic. Either way, I always found it endearing. But I never understood it until I began living as much of my life on the road as he did. When you spend a lot of time in public places or sterile hotel rooms, meeting and greeting lots of people, you are bombarded by an inordinate number of smells. Sometimes in all those aromas — pleasant or no — you begin to lose your You. I can’t really describe it any other way. I don’t know if that’s why my dad doused himself or not, but one of the things that I have started to do is to wear essential oils wherever I go, and to anoint myself with them in the morning and before I go to sleep, even as I get on an airplane. Their beautiful aromas waft up at me through my waking and sleeping hours and they connect me to something that grounds and soothes me. It’s a simple little ritual, but it is changing the way I travel. . .for the better!
Turns out, we had a lot of rituals as a family. I imagine you all did, and do.
Why am I telling you all this? Before I headed out on this leg of my tour, I did my first ritual assignment for school — a baby naming blessing. Our teachers asked us to use a specific child, and I chose a child named after my father. Creating it was so much fun, and it made me think about all the ways that my dad spread his light and joy and laughter into millions of people’s lives all over the world. So, I decided that I wanted to try to create a ritual that all the Vincent Price and Daily Practice of Joy fans could share this week — between the anniversary of this death and the spooky holiday that we all love called Halloween.
I am calling it the Ritual of Yes.
At each of my talks this week — and even in my interview with NPR’s Morning Edition (which will air this Friday, by the way) — I shared my idea. Here it is: I’ve come to believe that my dad’s whole philosophy of life came down to one word. That word is YES!!! The more I have lived my life guided by my YES, the more joy I have felt, the more love I have shared, the more peace has come into my life, the more fun I have had, the more healing has ensued. Saying YES has changed my life.
I thought I had been saying yes a lot, but looking back, I realize that my childhood yes gradually got whittled away by all the shoulds, the have to’s, the doubts and fears and to do list. I had a partner who told me that my nickname should have been Yeah But. Yeah But gradually became Maybe and often just devolved into NO.
Now to be sure, there are times where having our N-O is very very important, maybe the most important thing in the world: Creating boundaries, speaking our truths, taking care of ourselves instead of others. We must all learn to have our NO!
But saying YES to life is equally vital. In fact, saying yes to life opens our hearts and our minds expands us and our whole lives into connection with one another, with what and who we love, even with the planet!
So, my way of honoring my dad this Halloween week is very simple. Find one way of saying YES this week!
Here are some ideas:
Is there something your partner, spouse, best friend has been asking you to do for a long time that you’ve had a million good reasons not to do?
Is there something you've always wanted to do, wanted to try?
Or maybe it’s just spontaneous: A yes when someone with whom you’re just chatting suggests you grab a bite or go to a movie.
It’s a simple thing, but saying yes to life just opens our hearts.
It’s really that the energy we put out into the world is what gets reflected back to us. Or as Louise Hay so beautifully expressed it: "As I say yes to life, Life says Yes back to me.”
To choose Love over fear, to say yes instead of no or maybe or yeah but allows us to expand into joy. Trust me. This stuff works. I know! It is changing my life.
Try it. Pass it on. Tell your friends and family about it. What do you have to lose? And if it feels as good to you as it feels to me, share your experience with one another or on social media with #justsayyes or #yesyesyesyesyes or whatever inspires you. If you feel like sharing it with me, let me know at @onebravelife.
So many of people ask me what it was like to grow up with a dad like Vincent Price. You really want to know? Say Yes! Yes is why a classically-trained, Yale-educated actor became the King of Horror. Yes is why a 72-year-old man made a TV special in which he road as many rollie coasters as he could. Yes is why he bought his first piece of art at age 12 and his last two weeks before he died. Yes is why he sold art at Sears, why he toured for four years in a one-man show when he was in his seventies. And Yes is why Vincent Price recorded a little rap for an song called Thriller with a young man named Michael Jackson. A song I'm guessing you all will hear once or twice this week and which I guarantee will bring a smile to your face and a Yes to your heart!
I found this poem by Muriel Rukeyser a few weeks ago and fell in love with it! I hope you will read it and it will have the same heart-opening effect it has on you. And I hope your YES! will bring great joy this Halloween week!