The Mercy of the Mundane

2009 has been one strange year. It began with a bang when the first African American POTUS was inaugurated to cheers, jubilation, and great expectations around the world. It is ending with a whimper, as millions of Americans come to the unhappy realization that the dire economic situation is not going to be resolved any time soon, and helplessly watch their savings and safety nets gradually disappear before their eyes.

My family was not immune to the effects of the recession. We coped with job loss and cringed at the precipitous fall in the value of our home. We wrung our hands as our investments went into free fall.

Friends and family reported similar circumstances. We exchanged commiseration and money-saving tips. We put up brave fronts, but it made us heartsick to remember that not so long ago we were flying high, making rosy plans for robust retirements.

But through all the worry and anxiety about our financial situation and our future, life still went on. The grass did not stop growing just because we were too low to mow; the house did not stay clean because we didn’t feel like vacuuming; laundry still had to be done; dinner still had to be put on the table every night; garbage still had to be put out; and kids’ homework had to be dealt with day after day.

Housework has never been glamorous; these days it is considered almost beneath one’s dignity. We outsource it when we can to less fortunate fellowmen, happy to be free to pursue “higher” callings.

Yet it was in the mechanical, repetitive, and predictable little chores that are part of the responsibilities of adulthood that we finally found a measure of peace. Whether it was the mindless rinsing and stacking of dishes in the dishwasher, or helping our child with the rote memorization of multiplication tables, or weeding the small flower bed in the front yard, these were moments when we didn’t need to think; we just needed to do. Our brains rested and recharged while our hands were busy.

And in those precious moments was a sense of continuity, of perpetuity. While the world was falling apart around our ears, our routines kept us going. Every day brought its to-do list, a list that in better times had elicited groans, but now was eagerly awaited; every night we went to bed with the satisfaction of having crossed items off it. These little things were in our control, where so much of our lives this year was not.

This turbulent year, it is the mundane that kept us sane.

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