Do you always get caught up in “the next big thing”? I know I do. The danger for me is that while I am always on the lookout for whatever that “next big thing” might be, I often overlook the wonders I have before me every day in the here and now. In fact, when I pause to think deeply about the life I have been given, waves of guilt wash over me in the face of the suffering of so many others all over the world. Although even she suffered from debilitating depression before her untimely death at 47 in 1995, the New Hampshire poet Jane Kenyon recognized the gifts of the ordinary in her poem “Otherwise”:“I got out of bed on two strong legs. It might have been otherwise. I ate cereal, sweet milk, ripe, flawless peach. It might have been otherwise. I took the dog uphill to the birch wood. All morning I did the work I love. At noon I lay down with my mate. It might have been otherwise. We ate dinner together at a table with silver candlesticks. It might have been otherwise. I slept in a bed in a room with paintings on the walls, and planned another day just like this day. But one day, I know, it will be otherwise.”
Yep, it might have been otherwise for each of us had we been born in Mogadishu or Khartoum or Basra. Carrie Newcomer, Quaker singer and songwriter, believes that the everydayness of our lives, times that we could take for boredom, yet what might be yearned for by someone on the other side of the globe, should be considered as holy experiences. In “Holy As a Day Is Spent,” she wrote:
“Holy is the dish and drain The soap and sink, the cup and plate And the warm wool socks, and the cold white tile Showerheads and good dry towels And frying eggs sound like psalms With a bit of salt measured in my palm It’s all a part of a sacrament As holy as a day is spent Holy is a familiar room and the quiet moments in the afternoon And folding sheets like folding hands To pray as only laundry can I’m letting go of all I fear Like autumn leaves of earth and air For summer came and summer went As holy as a day is spent Holy is the place I stand To give whatever small good I can The empty page, the open book Redemption everywhere I look Unknowingly we slow our pace In the shade of unexpected grace With grateful smiles and sad lament As holy as a day is spent”
And so, I live out my days, in the classroom teaching students, in my University office, chatting amiably with students and my colleagues, and in my home with my family, each moment of quiet and calm elevated to a holy experience, the everydayness of my life, not taken for granted, but cherished and even sacred.
Column by Duane Bolin, professor of history