Monday, January 25, 2010

The luxury of normalcy

My friend Becca has a postcard on her fridge that I gaze at every time I visit her house. The postcard is a black-and-white photo of a bathroom scene. There’s a deep old-fashioned bathtub from which is visible the head and shoulders of a cheerful 30-something woman and the beaming face of a small child. A man is in the process of setting towels down on the ledge next to the tub. The caption reads “Normalcy: the greatest luxury.”

All it takes is a moment out of normalcy to remind me of how true this is, and sometimes not even that. Sometimes I’m reminded right in the midst of normalcy how much I appreciate the everyday.

There are some people who would find my life unimaginably quotidian, with its daily routines of housework, deskwork and child-tending. But I love all of its diurnal patterns, and nothing reminds me of this so much as having them broken, even by forces that are not necessarily negative. Once while I was on a tour of the Irish countryside, I entered a tiny cottage and saw a woman in a re-creation of a 19th-century Irish village rolling out pie crust. Her motions made me suddenly homesick for the daily pleasure of measuring out flour and sinking my hands into a baking project at my kitchen counter, though cooking isn’t normally something to be missed while on a European vacation. Whenever the electricity goes out, as it typically does two or three times per year (though not yet this winter, knock on wood), it reminds me of how welcome the hum of the refrigerator and the luxury of being able to run a washing machine are during my daily life.

I was thinking about this over the weekend because we spent two nominally dull days doing everyday sorts of things, and yet it all seemed cozy to me. On Friday evening, friends came over and I made pizza. On Saturday, we spent a lot of time picking up the house. I ran four loads of laundry. I went to the post office, the transfer station, the supermarket; but simply because there was nowhere else I especially needed to be, I indulged in a sense of reassuring normalcy in these errands as I picked up mail, got rid of trash, loaded up with ingredients for menus I’m looking forward to making. On Sunday we went to church, and in the afternoon played Scattergories. Sunday evening I completed the weekly ritual of cleaning out the guinea pig’s cage. The weather was cold and damp, and Rick was working all weekend, so my running time was limited to only 15-20 minutes a day and we didn’t do any other outdoor recreation, but the kids had fun at the indoor pool on Saturday, and I did some reading while they swam.

One the way home from grocery shopping, just as I was passing our local cross-country ski center, friends of ours pulled out of the parking lot right in front of me. I indulged in a wave of envy; I wished my family had been out on the cross-country trails rather than grocery shopping and dropping off the newspapers at the recycling center. But then I thought again about the reassuring sense of normalcy that doing routine tasks and errands gives me. Seeing the families sleeping on the streets of Haiti is all it takes to remind me how much I love having a house to clean and groceries to put away. Remembering the days after 9/11 never fails to conjure up for me how good it feels not to be worried about much more than whether antibiotics will clear up the dog’s ear infection.

Normalcy, the greatest luxury. Now it’s a drizzly Monday morning: the roads are slippery, the sky steel-gray, and I’m waiting for roadside repair to come fix a flat tire on our truck. But I’m also feeling fortunate that the tire went flat in our driveway rather than in a parking lot, and that roadside assistance is just a toll-free call away. It’s a routine day, and as far as I’m concerned there’s nothing at all not to like about that.

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