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.
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.