A Regular Week

“In extraordinary times, the ordinary takes on a glow and wonder all of its own.”
― Mike A. Lancaster, Human.4

Sometimes, weeks usher in momentous change, unexpected glories, shocking news. Some weeks are game-changers and life-changers.

Some weeks, we look back at the day it started and think, “Unbelievable. I am not the same person I was when this week started.”

Some weeks are monumental.

This week was not one of those weeks.

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This week, we’ve noticed a skunk has been visiting, turning on the motion-activated garage light several nights in a row.

There was no rain this week, so we walked each morning. And we had a string of hot, hot days, so the morning air was fresh but not chill. This week, we got used to setting the alarm and dragging our butts out of bed before the sun comes up.

One morning, as we got ready to walk, Mark stepped out on the back slab, and he called me.

“Come and see,” he said, kind of urgent but whispery.

I thought one of the deer mamas was back there with twins or triplets, so I started over. But then Mark started throwing smack talk out into the yard.

“Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, I see you, Pepe’ LePew. I see you in my yard. You need to move on now. That’s right: you go somewhere else!”

“Are you welling at a SKUNK?” I asked, and I turned around and headed quickly back to the dining room.

Mark stepped back into the house. Well, he strutted a little.

“Yeah,” he said. “I sent that polecat packing.”

I thought it might be a good idea to wait a minute or two before we started our walk. We headed out just as dawn was getting serious. We saw a runner in fancy clothes, a comfortable couple around our age in safety reflective gear, a no-nonsense walker with headphones on who was pumping her arms up and down. We saw an old black dog with a white, white muzzle sniffing at the sidewalk. When we got close, he put down his head and turned, tail tucked, to head back to his house.

We saw Jay, the friendly realty guy, walking his playful blue-eyed musky-dog. We saw a mama deer and a baby deer poised warily next to a lawn where dogs often romp, reined in by an electric fence.

We did NOT see the skunk.

***************************

On Tuesday, Jim and I drove out past the classic Denny’s, out to Old Wheeling Road, and we found the headquarters of RHDD. We were meeting Jim’s wonderful case-worker, Rachael, and she was going to introduce us to the Lauras.

The Lauras handle transportation for their organization. They showed Jim the bus and the van. One of the Lauras and one of the vehicles would arrive at the house to pick him up each morning, from the 24th on, and take him to class.

We met outside, social distancing, but a Laura offered to show Jim the bus and the van. They were baking inside, but Jim gamely climbed on the bus and checked out the seating, poked his head in the van. He learned what doors he’d use, allowing for safe distances between drivers and riders, and he and the Lauras agreed on a pickup time for the first week.

This was exciting: Jim starts back to college on the 24th, and he will not have to rely on Mom and Dad for transportation. He’ll have his own ride, thank you very much, and he’ll see us when he gets home.

He was strutting a little, too, when he thanked everyone and climbed back into the car. Rachael pulled out and we followed her back to Zanesville, where she and Jim met in a picnic pavilion behind her office while I got some steps in.

“That was a great meeting,” said Jim.

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On Wednesday, I came home from work, and thought about dinner. I thought about chopped and slicing, and stirring and simmering, and what I thought was this: I don’t want to do that.

So for dinner Wednesday night, Mark went out and got a loaf of bread, and we grilled cheese sandwiches, with American cheese and gouda, or Havarti, or Colby-jack. And we had soup: Tuscan sausage and white bean soup for Mark and me, which involved lifting a container from the freezer and reheating. Jim had a bowl of Lipton’s chicken noodle soup with his grilled cheese.

Jim’s father and I both told him what a treat that was when we were growing up—how Lipton was an exotic break from Campbell’s chicken noodle.

It was one of those nights when the sandwiches grilled up perfectly—brown and crusty, oozing cheese,—and the steaming soups tasted wonderful.

“Yum,” said Mark, and, “That was a great dinner,” Jim said.

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On Thursday, though, the college announced that it was moving classes to an on-line format. No rides would be needed.

“Oh, well,” said Jim. He seemed to be an odd combination of disappointed and relieved, which is, maybe, status quo for pandemic days. We’ll call his advisor, we decided, on Monday, talk about tutoring, and see whether that will be on-line, or via Zoom, or safely distanced face to face.

And then he’ll call and change his arrangements with Rachael and the Lauras.

***************************************

This week, I stopped at the library and picked up Kamala Harris’s The Truths We Hold, so I could learn a little more about this woman making history. I went to the last session of a racism discussion (went, via Zoom) at our public library. It was a ‘Where do we go from here?’ session, and I left with ideas and paths to explore. This week I learned to write a press release in a template format, and to include ‘boilerplate’ language below, and, under excellent tutelage, I expanded my technology knowledge to navigate a little more effectively in the on-line world.

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We all had Friday off this week, and Mark finished painting the basement walls, and I dust-mopped and vacuumed. Jim unrolled a new area rug in the family room, and laid two by fours on the edges to get it to lay down flat. Then he walked on it, barefoot.

This is a nice rug,” he said.

This week I ordered soft, velvety navy-blue throws to go on the new recliners we ordered last week. The throws will arrive long before the recliners do, but we think that’s okay. I ordered a single set of navy-blue curtains, too,–curtains to coordinate with the drapes on the bay window, and which can be pulled to block the sun that glares in at 7 p.m., shining on the big screen TV and erasing the picture.

This week I ordered groceries on-line in the morning and went to pick them up in the evening. And I looked forward to meeting friends for coffee. We’d meet in a park pavilion, and we would each bring our own drink and nosh. But I was excited to return to a certain degree of normalcy,—not saying that COVID is no longer here, but saying maybe we can navigate it differently. Maybe the things that enrich life—Saturday morning coffee with friends, touching base with loved ones, being there to share things,—are things we can still have. We just have to re-imagine their delivery.

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This week was about process, not outcome; it was a week when things continued, or groundwork got laid, or learning took place. There were no fireworks and no stunning surprises. It was a hard-working week with nice little breaks. We even, I think, all snuck a little nap in on Friday.

But, “This was a nice week,” said Jim, and his words make me spread it out, look back over it, pick up the week’s fabric and run it between my rough and gnarled fingers. I have to agree.

Now

The coffee steams, scent rising. The sky lightens, the leaves of trees a dark lacy tracery against a sky that’s milky, midnight blue. One bird trills and silences; another picks up the refrain, tattering. Then, after a tiny silence, there’s an answering warble.

The dog curls up under the chair, and settles in. Her panting subsides.

There is this one moment, this one blessed time.

**********

At work, the pile of documents to be shredded outside my office teeters. We all add to the stack, shoving our papers down. We each hope not to be the one that tips the balance, sending papers spewing, sending the clear message that here is a job that needs–right NOW–to be done.

No one likes to do the shredding.

Today, I pack up the basket and fill up some bags, chopping the wobbling tower in half. I head across the street, to the duplicating office where a high efficiency, industrial shredder is available: first come, first served. There is a little hint of martyrdom in my madness.

I pull a chair next to the shredding machine, and I empty the basket and the bags onto it, stacking the papers high. I open the shredder door and check the heavy duty garbage bag in its thick square bin inside; it is three-fourths full. I snug it back in, secure the door, wake up the machine, and begin.

And it is not so bad. The machine chomps and whirs. When the pile has diminished by two inches, I check the bag, rearrange the snowdrift, secure the doors again, grab more papers. Feed the hungry beast.

Finally, the machine refuses to go on. A blinking icon tells me the garbage bag is full. I pull the heavy bag out of its big square container. As it slides away from its constraints, tiny pieces of paper float and settle.

This is the part that everyone hates: changing the bag, then cleaning up the mess.

I wrestle the full bag into a corner, make bunny ears, tie a snug knot. I fit in a new bag, and then I take the dust pan and brush, and I kneel down on the floor to catch the errant shreds. I almost fill the dust pan, and I dump the flyaway paper back into the bin.

And I realize this is not so bad. This finite job, with its definite progress, has a certain clear-cut satisfaction. The pile of paper relentlessly shrinks. Sweeping the mess from the industrial carpet, yielding clear space, becomes a metaphor. I breathe deep. I savor the chance to do a simple job, a no-pressure job.

When my colleague Brenda comes in to pick up her mail, we talk about kids and summer and a wonderful graduate who’s gone on to success…and who is a thrifty wizard at yard sales. I seldom get to see Brenda; I enjoy the chance to catch up.

The stack of paper waits patiently until we are done talking.

There is this one moment, this one blessed time.

*********************

The sky is soft with clouds that do not threaten when James and I leave for Granville, our Wednesday ritual: a trip to the library, a visit to the coffee shop.

“Can I DJ?” he asks, another part of the routine.

We listen to Ewan MacGregor and Emma Thompson sing “Be Our Guest,” and Jim tells me that MacGregor’s first attempt at a French accent made everyone think he was Mexican. This is funny, because MacGregor’s wife is French.

We listen to Jerry Oerbach and Angela Lansbury sing the same song, and we can’t decide which version we like best.

We listen to several tunes by Imagine Dragons, and Jim tells me about the movies those tunes are featured in. The tires thrum, the music rolls, and the miles melt away.

There is this one moment, this one blessed time.

***********************

I put the boneless chicken on to parboil, and then I gather up the veggies. I rinse and chop fresh broccoli and put it on to steam; it quickly turns a bright, luscious green. I snap the ends of the sugar snap peas, peel off the rugged fibrous thread, give them their seconds in the pot. I take out small, jewel-like onions, a bulb or two of garlic. I take a whole jalapeño pepper from the freezer. Two carrots from the crisper; sliced almonds from the cupboard.

Mark comes home and changes clothes and slides the bamboo chopping board towards him, sharpens his favorite knife, and begins to turn the carrots into slender orange matchsticks. I mix the rice with water and drops of oil, sprinkle in some salt, put it on to steam. I slice the chicken and toss it into a hot cast iron pan; it sizzles, and smells rise and mingle–the sautéing onion, the searing meat. The snapping oil crescendos when the other veggies, crisp and wet, join the mix. We move around the kitchen, stirring and lifting, filling the sink with hot, soapy water, wiping down surfaces, comparing notes of the day.

Jim comes in to wrestle plates down from the top shelf, dig his teriyaki sauce from the back of the refrigerator, tell us about a scene in the episode he’s just been watching. Which reminds him of a joke from the joke tape, and we laugh although we’ve heard it many times before.

And the rice is plump and soft, the chicken seared golden brown; we mix General Tso’s sauce into the veggies and we say a family grace.

There is this one moment, this one blessed time.

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The supermarket is quiet on a Wednesday night, floors gleaming, shelves picked over. But all the items on our list are also on the shelves.

A tired young mom wheels her cart slowly through the aisles; her path crisscrosses ours.  Her little boy, sleek head, hair as smooth and brown as an otter’s, points and points and begs. She murmurs, and he keens.

We select small, firm apples and pretzel rods, coffee and tea; we score the last loaf of Nickle’s bread and the last dozen brown, cage-free eggs. I put two thin bars of sea-salt dark chocolate in the cart. Mark adds a tube of cinnamon buns. We sort coupons. Jim stacks his own groceries in a corner of the cart; he will pay, proudly, for his own food.

There is this one moment, this one blessed time.

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And there is Guy Fieri on the flat screen; there is an unexpected email to answer, and there is just time to do a little writing and reflection. The dark draws back over the sky and the house seems to settle. The dog sighs and slips abruptly into sleep; her feet twitch and she makes noises deep in her throat, dreaming her doggie dreams.

This moment; this day. We have what we have. We know what we know. Everything we’ve done, all the people we have met, all the thoughts we’ve entertained…all bringing us to this–this fulcrum moment, balancing between past and future, clad lightly in the fragile glass of now.

Sleeping In

The alarm clock jiggles and dances at 6:28 AM, and I reach out and slide the lever down, turning it off. The dog, who knows that THAT particular alarm sound is aimed at Mark, whimpers a little, heaves herself out of her cozy dog bed, and ambles around to where Mark is shaking off the sleep.

“All right,” he says, resignedly, struggling into his snuggly robe. “Let’s go outside.”

They leave; I hear the ticky-tacking of the dog’s nails on the hardwood floors downstairs, and then, the opening of the back door.

And I consider: I could get up now. Normally, I’d have been up for at least an hour.

But it is Friday, and I don’t have to work. Last night, I had one of those energy surges, and I finished up all my little hanging obligations. The package is put together and addressed; the notes for the meeting are ready. Letters written, responses made–there is nothing calling me to my computer.

I have nothing that must be done until almost 1 PM.

And the bed is warm, and the room is dark, and I pull the blankets more firmly around me, rolling over and sighing. The dog nudges open the door and jumps on the bed. She circles around three times, then nests herself into the crook of my knee pit. We breathe a deep, contented breath in unison, and we drift back off to sleep, lulled by the sound of water thrumming in the shower.

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I wake up an hour later, feeling crystal clear and smelling the definite smell of carbonized toast: Mark’s favorite breakfast complement. The dog looks sadly up at me as I swing my feet over her head and out of the bed; she is comfortably situated. She could stay there all day.

I pull on jeans and a floppy shirt, brush my teeth, stretch, and head into the day. I don’t even make the bed–we change the sheets on Fridays. I have that wonderful, light-shouldered feeling of nothing immediate to do.

The dog and I shlep down the stairs, singing about burnt toast, and Mark pokes his head from the kitchen, where–blessed man–he has turned the coffee on to brew.

“I believe that you exaggerate,” he says, grinning.

I treat the dog–half a Beggin’ strip, a coin of frozen hot dog; she’s already been fed. She declines a rawhide chewy stick and takes her lazy self off to the couch. After a tough night, snuggled up, protecting Mom, she needs her rest.

Mark reluctantly gets up to leave for work. It is casual Friday; he wears his jeans and pulls his old Bills jacket–an anomaly in southern Ohio–over his nubby sweater. We talk about having a little blaze in the fireplace tonight (winter has returned; the high today will be in the low-enough thirties to give us some snow, and right now, it is pretty brisk outside.) He reminds me he’ll be home at lunch, to take Jim to an appointment outside of Columbus. And then Mark opens the door; he lets in a gust of cold, and he plunges into his workday.

And I pour myself a steaming cup of decaf dark roast, pull on my fuzzy, Wicked Witch of the West socks, and open up the local paper.

I remember feeling this kind of freedom–this temporary reprieve feeling–in college on the rare occasions I wasn’t scheduled to work at the supermarket deli at 8 or 9 AM on Saturday. The morning would stretch out, a bubble in a torrent of time, a safe spot to stretch and rest and read. If those mornings had a sound, they would sound like a whispered ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

Of course, then as now, I know the bubble is due to shatter. There are worries, real worries, floating outside–I can see them as I sit and read what’s going on in my town–about St. Patrick’s day dinners and speakers at the library and high schools sports games. The clock ticks down for a dear, dear friend, who suffers in her last days. Other friends grasp hands and wait out the weekend, awaiting news that will shatter or heal. Health concerns, and financial decisions, and things that have to be done in timely ways, in and out of work: all these bob around me, bumping, gently this morning, against the bubble walls.

This blessed, respite morning is like a small step out of time.

I walk the dog. We meander in the cold sunshine, and she sniffs to her heart’s content. I pick up the Columbus paper from the lawn, and we come back inside to treats for her and breakfast for me. I split an English muffin on a red Fiestaware plate, put it in to toast, pour more coffee.

Then Jim gets up and asks about the shape and the weft of the day, and I feel the sides of my bubble thinning. Reality pushes.

And the toaster pops and I butter the muffin and I read the news from Columbus, shaking my head over the idea of de-funding libraries, de-funding the arts, and I realize the bubble’s sides have quietly melted. I’ll read my paper now, do my word puzzles, and I’ll slide, feet-first, back into the torrent.

And it is good to deal with things, to face the pain of loss, to check the email, to run the errands and strip the bed and have the conversations and take care of all the myriad details that weave the fabric of daily life. I do not want to shirk one thing; I want to be there, for the good and the bad and the things that wrench our hearts.

But it is good, too, every once in a while, to have that cozy, fleeting bubble descend, encompass me. It is good to turn off the alarm, to roll over with a sigh, and let the day start without me.

******

I will take care of business; of course I will. But I’ll do it better today because I have slept in.

Another Ordinary Day

But one day, I know, it will be otherwise.    

Jane Kenyon, “Otherwise”

 

It’s really, really early, and I’m so bleary I have to check the date on my phone. I pull the loose-leaf page toward me, pick up my Pentel RSVP pen, and I write Tuesday, May 10, 2016.  Then I sit back and sip my coffee and look at the date I’ve written. It seems, somehow, significant.

Is today a special day?

I wrack my mind.  Not, I think, my parents’ anniversary–that was last week, I’m pretty sure.  Not my nephews’ birthdays–Jason’s is tomorrow, Zack’s on the 15th. I page through the ‘Dates to Remember’ section in the old address book.

I get nothin’.

May 10th: just an ordinary day.

I yawn and stretch, struggling to wake up: I am out of bed at 5 AM now, or a bit before. My workplace has gone to a four/ten-hour day schedule, and my arrival time is two hours earlier than it used to be.  So I am adjusting, and I am a little slower waking up on this ordinary morning, in this ordinary day.

It comes to me that someone else–someone I don’t even know–is up, somewhere,  too, pacing and excited. She’s wound up because for her, this is far from an ordinary day.  I can see her, suddenly: a young woman, a new graduate of a two-year school, I think, who starts her job today.  My first ‘pantyhose job,’ she’d laughed when she called to tell her mother the good news. All her other jobs have been food-service, supermarket, grease-stained jobs.  She earned this position by her return to school, by her amassing of skills. Doors she didn’t even know were there have opened in her mind.

And job doors have opened, too.  She is thrilled.

She is terrified.

Her new boss is really nice.  And she’ll have her own office–a cubicle, really, but she will bring in flowers, an inspirational sign…

Her mother has framed a photo for her office. It’s a picture of herself, aged seven years, playing “work” at the dining room table.  She has a pile of papers in front of her.  She has been scrawling nonsensical phrases across each sheet and creating stacks.

“There’s a lot of paperwork in my business,” she famously told her father, the photographer. In the photo, she’s frozen in the act of speaking to him sternly, eyebrows drawn together, right hand flung over her hand.  Pencil brandished. Her head: a mass of errant curls.

A funny, perfect photo. And her mother is both proud and aching–she is letting go so her daughter can head down a path where she can’t ever follow.

***********

Another woman awakens, somewhere else, but stays flattened in her bed, weary before the day even begins. She’s negotiating.  Give me just today, she wheedles the beast that eats her from within.  Today: I’ll take a walk, I’ll mop my floor.  I’ll pick a sprig of rosemary from the pot by the back stoop. I’ll crush it between my index fingertip and my thumb.  All day long, I’ll smell rosemary on my fingers; it will surprise me.  I’ll remember roasts and soups and sauces and planting.  I will lean into normal joys.

Give me that, will you? she asks the beast, a plain, hard question. But there’s no hint or murmur of any kind of an answer.  For the thousandth time she’ll wonder why she cannot sense the thing that grows within.

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And somewhere else, today, a woman becomes a mother, reaching out for the squalling little bundle that, all wrapped up, they come to place in her arms.

The tiny, puckered being wails, little fists flailing. “I know you,” the new mother thinks in wonder. The momma whispers a universal calming shooosh, and the baby catches the meaning like a strong spun thread, like a lifeline. Little hands stop; head turns.  Eyes lock on to the momma’s.

There is the snick of slickly oiled metal gears sliding snugly into place.  These two are bonded now, locked together, promise shared and commitment forged.  They are joined irrevocably for what will no doubt be a crazy, crazy ride.

**************
But another woman, today, holds her husband’s hand.  They sit in soft gray chairs in a plush private office.  They watch the doctor shake her head.

This woman feels a burning brick drop to the very pit of her, drop to flatten that wasted, empty womb.

She cannot look at David.  She cannot even cry. Her mind is blear and empty, a uselessly shiny black orb, like those old magic eightball games kids once used to tell fortunes. Just one word floats to the surface, taps gently against the watery screen, demands to be read. It is despair.

***************

And here is someone who doesn’t have to go to work today–who can’t, in fact, go back to that job, that world she’d inhabited for, yea, these many years.  That place into which she has poured so much energy and love: it’s closed to her now.

She’s been let go. Her professional email has been shut off, her office phone unplugged.  She has cleaned out 15 years worth of professional accumulation.  Boxes, thickly taped, surround her bed.  It’s the only place she could find to put them in her tiny house–the tiny house she has to figure out, now, how to pay for.

It’s all too much, too new, too raw, and she thinks she might as well just go on and sleep for another three hours. What the hell?  Why not stay in bed all day? 

Then the dog whimpers and the cell phone chirps and she knows, wearily, that she has to drag herself up to slog through the long and empty day.

***************
Somewhere today a hiker crests a hill and moves aside a leafy branch and gasps.  There’s glory spread out before her, a scene she will not ever forget. In this moment, her senses widely open, the reality of joy and beauty tumble strong within her.

And somewhere else a woman mindlessly cradles an injured, dirt-crusted child, trying–she doesn’t remember why it matters–to find help.  Is it so important that this child should live?  Is it even, in all of this mess, wise?  She can’t be bothered by existential questions.  She just needs to forge ahead, follow the path before her, navigate the battle zone that is her everyday.

And somewhere a new puppy yips, and a child laughs as the warm little being squirms to lick her face.  Somewhere a widow chews the rest of her lipstick off, reaching out to take the neatly folded flag.  Her son–God! she thinks, my son is an old man himself!–takes hold of her arm firmly.

Somewhere a step van pulls up to remove the stained furniture they can no longer pay for.

Somewhere else, in the very moment I write this, two people fall in love.

And everywhere–all over the damned place–people eat and talk and squabble.  They nudge each other away from the toaster:

Give me the butter. 

I’ve got to run.

Did you call the cable?

You gonna leave those dishes in the sink?

**********

An ordinary day, a common clay bead on a long, long string of them: the kind of bead that creates a calm setting for the ones that stand out. Those stand-out beads shout beauty and outrageous glee, or they are hammered, whimpering, into a different shape–they are uncommon, intervening, thread-changing beads that only show up on this predictable, regular string once in a very great while.

Thank God, for the common clay, I think; thank God.  Thank God for this time of calm, of dull, of same old / same old. For I know the other days will come.  There will be glowing days; there will be days that gut-smack me, bruise me in their grasp, threaten to suck the singing from my soul.

Some day, the poet tells us, someday it will be different.  And I pick my pen back up to write, and I think: God willing, today will be a ‘same day,’ and I will take the time to live in and appreciate it.

Today’s May 10th, I write, an ordinary day.