I spent much of my life thus far avoiding routine. Growing up, I viewed routine as the opposite of enjoyment. The house I grew up in was a place of routine, and I tried to imagine my way out of it. Well, except for the daily times that held routine Breakfast of cereal, routine lunch of sandwiches and leftovers, and routine dinner of routine choices. I never willingly missed a meal growing up. My parents had a rule when I was little that we were allowed thirty minutes of TV per day. Eventually, that evolved to a whole hour. If my sisters and I were inside, we were reading (well they were reading and I was trying to get them come and play outside with me), or were doing chores, or we were outside.
One time during college, Mom, Jessica and Tricia invited me to go to Panera with them on a Saturday morning. Within 5 minutes, I wondered why I was there. They weren’t talking about anything that was overly funny, world changing, or philosophical. They were talking about the details of what they were doing each day, and I distinctly remember feeling confused. How could anyone remember this much detail of what they had done and where they had been while doing those things. After that, I didn’t go to Panera with them anymore.
Which takes me back to the part I was sharing before. When I say I resisted routine, I have another way of saying this:
I didn’t like the idea of being ordinary.
To me, ordinary was a waste of time. I wanted a story that was bigger than that. I wanted to feel like my life was taking on more effect than just being “ordinary” as I did “routine” things.
In February of 2016, I moved up to Boise. I went to spend time with my Mom. She was still in good enough health that she walked 2-3 miles a day a year into stage 4 cancer. Within three weeks of being there, Mom was in a wheelchair.
Every day, I would cook breakfast, and then I would transfer her from her wheelchair to a new seat in the room, back to her wheelchair, and then to another seat. A few years before this, I had traveled to 7 countries in Africa, and climbed Kilimanjaro. Now, I was in the house helping take care of a sick parent.
Something happened while I was there I never expected. I began to love routine. There wasn’t a rush to do many things, and in the lack of rush, things slowed down.
Sometimes it felt like we were in a continuum, and I didn’t know when this world would change. It was maddening to see my Mom grow weaker and weaker with time. I could talk about the other challenges that happened while there, but sometime during it I came to understand the power of ordinary.
As much as I may like to talk and feel deep, stand on mountains, and attempt to swim oceans, I found that there is nothing to begrudge about the ordinary. That’s where we live most of our lives.
This is for every person who sees the incredible life someone else is living on social media, and says, “I wish that was me.” This is for every man turning a wrench, and for every woman changing a diaper. Or maybe it’s a woman turning a wrench, and a man changing a diaper. There is nothing glorious about the ordinary, routine moments of life except for everything about this ordinary, routine life.
The past week, life has been slowing down around me, like the end of an episode of LOST when the music starts and the camera pans slowly across each character’s face. It is like life has slowed down, and I’ve started seeing people again. I stopped rushing through every moment, and I’m enjoying the opportunity to linger in the present moment. Where are we rushing off to anyway?
When I’m eating with friends, I see the expressions of concern, joy, outrage, and confusion on their faces, and I love them more than I did before. I love them because I’m learning to look, and it’s not from the top of a mountain I’m seeing these views. The love is in these everyday, ordinary moments of life. This is where the power is, because this is where the love is, if we can only stop to see, experience, and accept that maybe the powerful didn’t only happen while we were on top of a mountain. It happened while we were washing dishes, writing letters, sipping a cup of coffee, crying in our loss, and laughing with our friends. The secret power of ordinary is that your life is not ordinary. The routine, ordinary moments are this life we have. There is nothing ordinary about being alive.