We pay attention to our shoes when they hurt or are strange. If they are just like we expect them to be and fit and do their job, we don’t pay attention.
Sometimes life can be like that. We talk about things as “going well” and “perking along.” Those are good times and I, for one, appreciate ordinariness. I wrote about the Christian church cycle including those dramatic events like Christmas and Easter and that we used to call the other times “ordinary time.” In that post I wrote about how extraordinary things can be learned in ordinary time.
Today I am thinking about how things that are ordinary can sustain us in extraordinary times. As I reflect back to those early weeks and even months after the fire I think about how much we yearned for things to be “normal” again. I felt like someone had taken the breath out of my lungs and I was a fish gasping for air. Anything that was familiar, anything that was ordinary, was special. Looking back I surmise that there were times when I sunk with relief into ordinariness like it was a soft chair.
It is that chair that I am thinking on today. It is the comfort of the familiar when you don’t know you are being comforted.
I needed to travel to attend some family business and needing a place to stay, made a reservation at a Marriott hotel which is my custom. According to the book in the bedside table about Mr. Marriott, one of the goals of the Marriott chain is to offer people things that are familiar. While it can be exciting to stay in exotic hotels, when you are on the road a lot like I appreciate the Marriott’s effort to create familiar landscapes. When I walked into the studio bedroom my response was just to be here. It was like the old shoe. It was familiar. I knew where the closet would be and how the hangers would be so unpacking was easy. I knew the blow-dryer would be in the first or second drawer in the bathroom. I knew there would be space for my toiletries in the top drawer. I knew I could put my toothbrush and a cup on the right hand of the sink.
I wandered into the little kitchen and saw the dishtowel. It hit the pit of my stomach with a mystifying blow. I stared at the towel and wondered what I was feeling. Was it the comfort of familiarity left from living in the Marriott hotel for the first month after the fire or was it the memories of those towels defining one of the most distressing times of my life? I stood there a moment not sure. It was an approach – avoidance. I was drawn toward the towel at the very same time wanted to turn from it. I could not sort out my feelings so I decided to ignore them and move on.
I finished unpacking and turned the heat off in the room since I like cool rooms. I busied myself with getting my dinner ready. I had brought instant mashed potatoes, a little pack of salmon and some celery. I was looking forward to sitting down with my simple meal and relaxing after a long day of travel and tasks. I opened the drawer to get a spoon and was hit by such powerful emotions I almost crumpled to the floor. The feeling lasted nanoseconds and even as it was happening I understood that it was part of the story of the fire.
As I walked away with my spoon clutched in one hand and a microwave cook pot in the other I saw in a flash the life I had collected in this year. It was full of painfully extraordinary moments. It was sheltered by comforting ordinary moments. The extraordinary moments of this fire-year are not even a year yet. The ordinary moments of my life are nearly three score years. The one protects the other.