Wednesday, March 25, 2009

lenten journal: a taste for the mundane

When we opened the restaurant at Duke last fall, we averaged about thirty customers a night; fifty was busy. Over the course of the semester, the number grew to where fifty was the average. This semester, we’ve seen our customer base expand to where sixty-five is a slow night. Tonight we served ninety and topped our highest sales amount to date. Getting busier takes some adjustment, because we have to rethink what “normal” is. When the number of covers we do every night (that’s restaurant lingo for the number of dinners we serve; why, I do not know) increases without the kitchen staff growing, what has to be done in a normal day of work changes, too.

When we first moved to Boston, I had a part time job at the Blockbuster Video in our Charlestown neighborhood. Arlene, the assistant manager, was married to a Boston cop. What I knew of the life of a police officer came from Hill Street Blues. I was surprised at how mundane the daily life of a cop really was. There just weren’t that many shootouts to be attended to.

Thanks to Top Chef and Iron Chef and the Food Network in general, my profession gets its share of play, making it look glamorous and interesting, when much of the day is fairly routine and mundane: chopping and cleaning and slicing and cleaning. Though I get to make cool stuff and wear a white jacket, what I do is manual labor, and somewhat repetitive. Not a day goes by that I don’t chop my share of onions and celery and carrots for the two soups I have to make. I bake the bread for dinner each night. At least twice a week I have to make desserts (the same ones). Ii cut steaks and fish and roast chickens. And then, as I said, there’s the cleaning: sanitizing the stainless steel countertops, sweeping and mopping the floors. Once a week, I take inventory for the coming week’s food order.

I also come home most nights and try to write, which is its own mix of mystery and mundaneness (mudanity?). Tonight, in my Writer’s Almanac moment, I followed the link to author of today’s poem (a jewel of its own), Mark Strand, to find one that had been featured a year or so ago:

The Continuous Life

What of the neighborhood homes awash
In a silver light, of children hunched in the bushes,
Watching the grown-ups for signs of surrender,
Signs that the irregular pleasures of moving
From day to day, of being adrift on the swell of duty,
Have run their course? O parents, confess
To your little ones the night is a long way off
And your taste for the mundane grows; tell them
Your worship of household chores has barely begun;
Describe the beauty of shovels and rakes, brooms and mops;
Say there will always be cooking and cleaning to do,
That one thing leads to another, which leads to another;
Explain that you live between two great darks, the first
With an ending, the second without one, that the luckiest
Thing is having been born, that you live in a blur
Of hours and days, months and years, and believe
It has meaning, despite the occasional fear
You are slipping away with nothing completed, nothing
To prove you existed. Tell the children to come inside,
That your search goes on for something you lost—a name,
A family album that fell from its own small matter
Into another, a piece of the dark that might have been yours,
You don't really know. Say that each of you tries
To keep busy, learning to lean down close and hear
The careless breathing of earth and feel its available
Languor come over you, wave after wave, sending
Small tremors of love through your brief,
Undeniable selves, into your days, and beyond.
Man. What he said.

For all of the frontiers that still may be, for all the places I want to go where I have not yet been, for all that appears to be undiscovered by me (though most of it already found by someone else), my daily life holds new things when I am willing to develop “a taste” for the mundane, and cultivate a sense of wonder in ordinary things.

Some time back, I got a note from someone who reads my blog and shared a connection to Coryell County, Texas, where I used to pastor, wondering how someone who used to pastor a part-time Southern Baptist Church outside Gatesville, Texas ended up as a chef and married to a minister in the United Church of Christ. Though there were a couple of amazing experiences that became altars along the way, for the most part it happened as Strand describes: the one thing leads to another, that leads to another. I followed my heart (and the woman I love) in big things and in small things, the daily gestures – not unlike the making of the mirepoix – that build a life out of the bricks we call days. I understand the fear of having nothing accomplished, though that speaks more to my own sense of not being enough than it does to what my life adds up to. In my best moments, brought upon by things like Strand’s poem, I know showing up for life everyday and doing what I can to be kind and open adds up in the midst of the cooking and cleaning. and the coming home each night to the one who loves me best, in all sorts of ordinary ways.

Peace,
Milton

3 comments:

KQ said...

(coming out of a long lurking period to say...) This post stretched my imagination, like a good sermon, into ideas that you probably did not even include in the text. I'll keep those to myself, but I want to say that I sure do appreciate your writing, Milton, and I am glad that you are still here for me to read. You bless me.
As far as the actual subject matter? When thinking on the dynamics of "normal" vs. change I like to remember: "Normal is just a setting on the dryer" ~ Adair Lara
Peace!

Unilove said...

A really solid, comfortably snug post...

I'm not sure, but I think they call it 'covers' because of those plate covers they put over food, like for banquets?

Anyway, your writing is always good...

Thank you...

Alison said...

Another lurker speaks. I've been thinking about the mundane/the quotidian/daily life for a while now and have come to think that how we choose to act in (and whether we pay attention to) everyday small things is all that really matters.

God is found in details: the quiet voice, the shaft of sunlight striking the wall, the stillness of a house where children sleep. In perceiving these details, we prepare ourselves to perceive God's presence throughout the world.

So thank you for your post here.