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The Gift of the Ordinary

Grief knocked again—or, more accurately, knocked me off my feet and left me wailing.

You’d think after writing about grief, I’d know to anticipate such a thing—or find an easier way through the aftermath of my sister’s death. But no, Grief was as tough as ever. And then, just as I regained my balance, my friend Katy was killed by a car.

What I have learned, even as I struggle to pull myself back into a semblance of carrying on, is that Grief-the-teacher always leaves a gift.

This time, it was a message about the ordinary.

Finding the creative in the quotidian

Too often, I behave like a martian-on-a-mission, wanting to “get through” certain tasks (vacuuming floors, folding laundry) so I can “get to” the creative work I want to do (writing and painting).

This time Grief suggested that I try to imagine the creative possibilities living in the most ordinary aspects of life. Maybe I could use them to build awareness—or as tiny moments of gratitude.

I told Grief I’d be willing to try—as long we could settle for very small gains.

My goal is not round-the-clock mindfulness but a few more moments of consciousness and appreciation as I unload the dishwasher.

Because if death were to take away that daily deed and the often boring, mundane tasks that make up my regular life—I’d miss them.

Wiping breadcrumbs off the counters. Cleaning toilets.

In a flash, the ordinary could disappear, as it did for my friend.

In her honor, I wrote this:

THE GIFT OF THE ORDINARY

If I came back from the dead to visit

You wouldn’t need to tidy

Or fret about the neatness of your living room

the number of spiderwebs

I’d feel the love living within its walls.

If I came back to your place to visit

You needn’t worry whether the glasses matched

or if their design was fashionable

Or whether you still used jam jars.

You’d never need to impress me

Which is to say, you never need to impress anyone.

(A lesson I wish I had learned sooner.)

And that stray teacup

Sitting on your desk for several weeks

Has a beautiful pattern left in the stains.

Your spiders enhance your house

with worlds of shimmering beauty.

I would want to stand with you

while you did the dishes

Imagining the soapy bubbles

and feel of lather

Running off your hands

Listening to the clatter—a symphony of sound

As you put the plates away.

We might take a walk together.

And while we couldn’t talk

I’d hope to hear the sounds of everyday

As cackling crows sort out their duties

Aspens chant in community,

And the wind announces a storm.

Perhaps we’d see the redtail hawks

Performing their ballets above the field.

I wouldn’t try to advise you

(Even if I could)

Your job being to trust yourself

And see the possibilities before you

In what you call mundane

The simple pleasures.

I have no regrets

The time for that is over.

But if I did, it would not be for pyramids I never saw

But for moments when I could have loved more

Or savored the ordinary before it was gone.

4 Responses

  1. So quietly moving, Sally — thank you. Sitting with you & your grief from afar. Virtual hugs don’t really substitute for the real thing, wish I could be nearer to dry dishes with you. xoxox

  2. Oh my , I am so sorry for your losses. wow. This poem is outstanding. I just read it outloud to my cousin who is visiting me, and who has just learned her cancer is spreading. She went to Aldermarsh once with me for SAS. She loved your poem, too.

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