The Extraordinary in the Ordinary

“The incredible gift of the ordinary! 

Glory comes streaming from the table of daily life.”

–Macrina Wiederkehr

 

A simple new recipe landed in my inbox the other day.  It called for an aromatic mix of clove garlic and fresh basil, combined with diced tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, and a few other ingredients. It was all added to a large pan of cooked linguine, completing a perfect dish of pesto.

Rick and I thought it looked both delicious and easy (and I like “easy” when it comes to cooking)!  After slicing, dicing, and mixing, we set our new never-before-eaten-on table with our new, deep blue stoneware, complementing our individual places with a bottle of wine.  Suddenly dinner was no longer just a meal.  Dinner had become elevated, transformed into a moment that called for savoring and basking in the joy and satisfaction of the present moment. The ordinary had turned extraordinary.

This experience got me thinking about the ordinary moments in our lives.  Most of our days consist of routine, ordinary moments when we celebrate nothing in particular and have no special plans.  We tend to think of them as less happy and less fulfilling than those extraordinary times when we celebrate birthdays, weddings, reunions, and various rites of passage.  Of course we’ll always remember and hold dear these limited, special occasions when laughter came more easily and worry was nowhere around.  Special days and special memories are part of life.

But so easily overlooked is the joy found in ordinary days.  The extraordinary can erupt surprisingly in an ordinary moment, often found at the least suspecting time, circumstance and place.  For example, one of my ordinary-extraordinary moments occur when I run in the morning and settle down to a simple breakfast of cereal and toast!

And what joy it was to cook a new recipe and lavish ourselves in its delectable taste.  This moment was not in some fancy, expensive restaurant, but right in the simplicity of our own home.  Perhaps this makes it all the more extraordinary.

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A new recipe and an enjoyable meal.  -Photo: J. Stanton

 

A Visit to McLeod Plantation Historic Site

Anyone who has had surgery knows that recovery takes a while.  During any rehabilitation period, lives change dramatically, requiring a change in how we spend our time.

This is exactly what my husband and I experienced after his shoulder surgery.   No more trips to the beach; no long walks in Charleston’s summer heat.  Instead, we found ourselves engaged in everyday activities that kept his shoulder safe from harm and, at the same time, promoted healing.  We attended physical therapy sessions, iced the surgical site, and adjusted the sling—many times over!  And six weeks later, we’re not done yet.

A few weeks ago, though, we made a slight turning point.  It was a Sunday afternoon. The temperature and humidity had dropped somewhat while a slight breeze brushed against us as we ventured outdoors and did something besides rehabilitate and give care to the rehabilitator!  We visited one of many of Charleston’s plantations: McLeod Plantation Historic Site, a place that was turned into a museum only a little over a year ago.

The history of McLeod Plantation goes back to the mid-1800s.   William Wallace McLeod acquired this property in 1851 and constructed a home there.  While the McLeod family sought to defend their advantageous way of life, enslaved men and women worked hard cultivating sea island cotton.  It was a place of hard work, struggle, and complex relationships during a time of war and pestilence. Today, states the plantation’s website, “It is a living tribute to the men and women and their descendants that persevered in their efforts to achieve freedom, equality, and justice.”

This historic site is a testament to the living presence of the past.  For more information about and to see photos, go to:

http://www.ccprc.com/1447/McLeod-Plantation-Historic-Site

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/24/arts/design/mcleod-plantation-museum-tells-the-story-of-the-south.html?_r=0

 

An Anniversary I Remember Each Year

Today is my parents’ wedding anniversary.  It is a date that stays firmly in my mind each year.  If they were still alive, they would be celebrating seventy-nine years of marriage today. Their wedding, by the way, was a double ceremony with my mother’s brother, Russ, and his chosen partner, Dorothy.

There’s something important about anniversaries.  Whether it’s a marriage, birthday, or other remembrance, anniversaries invite us to revisit significant and important events in our lives.  Without remembering these important dates, we could go through life unseeing, failing to reflect—or even recognize—the significance of our life experiences, the lessons they taught us, and the personal growth we gained as a result of having lived them.

They may even give us pause to be grateful, and today I am.

(Note:  I have a picture of my parents on their wedding day that I recently came across but today cannot find.  I will publish it when I do)!

Reconciling Grief: Choosing Proper Conditions

Everything is gestation and then bringing forth.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Winters are long in Minnesota.  Some years ago, however, winter seemed especially long.  I grew weary of its icy temperatures, sidewalks, and streets.  According to the calendar, spring had come over a month ago, but I was not convinced that it had—or that it would.

Then one day in May, temperatures climbed and the sun beamed.  The first real spring day had arrived!  As I looked around outdoors, I noticed an almost magical transformation around me: hosta plants poking through our backyard soil, buds forming on our red maple tree, and multi-colored tulips adorning neighborhood yards.

At last spring had broken through winter’s grasp!  But spring had been there all along, waiting, poised on the verge of breaking through winter’s hold.  Springtime life could not blossom until the proper conditions of warm temperatures and radiant sunshine had appeared.

When we grieve, we may wonder if we will ever feel good again.  Our grief, like winter, may linger long and become tiresome.  Though our grief will last as long as it needs to, we can facilitate the process toward new life by choosing “proper conditions.”  We too can choose a warm, nurturing climate: a safe, supportive setting of love, compassion, and understanding.

And perhaps we can offer these proper conditions to others—in an encouraging word or a listening ear—and assist them in emerging from their soul’s winter bleakness into new springtime life.

Red Maple 1

Red Maple tree in Minnesota backyard. Photo JStanton

 

Can a House Remember?

Can a house, long empty and abandoned,

wounded by nails in its side and

silent, sallow boards over its windows

remember the family who once lived there,

spent their days and nights there?

 

Can a house still smell those early mornings,

when two strips of bacon bubbled

in an old black iron skillet

or hear the friendly voice of Wally Phillips,

daily breakfast guest from WGN Radio?

 

Can a house still hear the clamorous crack

of a mother’s back breaking in a game of badminton

or the silent fracture of a teenager’s heart?

 

Can a house still hear the swoosh

of pinochle cards shuffling, players laughing,

or the clickety-clack of the old Singer,

marching in rhythm,

sinking new stitches into old dresses?

 

Can a house still taste the bitterness

of harsh words spoken too soon

or feel the soothing softness

of a comforting embrace?

 

Can a house remember anything at all?

 

And what do you do

when you stand facing a structure

that was once tenderly cared for,

that you once called home,

where you lived and learned,

sought shelter and solace,

and still today regard it with respect, honor, and fondness,

but now stands cold, stiff, and inhospitable toward you?

 

Do you simply stare at it?

Shake your head?

Say, “It’s a shame?”

 

Or do you ask it, as I do:

Do you remember—

and will you never forget—

the ordinary lives

that once breathed inside your walls

that now remain anonymous? 

 

When Rick and I moved from Minneapolis to Charleston, we stopped at my childhood home in Illinois and found the house abandoned and boarded up.  This poem arises from that experience.

 

Western Avenue, house where Jan grew up

The front of my childhood home, where I lived until I married. This was probably taken in the late 1960’s.

 

Jan on homemade swing

As a young girl, I spent a lot of time on this backyard swing that my dad made for me.

Back yard Western Avenue

Our cat, Twinkle, gave birth to three kittens under this backyard porch.

Western Front

Today the house stands abandoned with overgrown brush and boards all around it.

Western Ave Side view

This is the side of the house with plywood covering the bedroom and basement windows.

These three photos show the backyard as of July 2015.

Discerning the Bridge Run

It took me months to decide.  Could I really participate in Charleston’s Cooper River Bridge Run?

This 10K run, a major event held annually in Charleston, draws thousands of runners every year from Charleston and beyond. Even before I moved to Charleston I wondered if I’d ever run (and be able to run) this significant race.  When the April fourth Bridge Run approached this year, I faced a decision.  Would I make this run a reality for me?

Three Months Prior

I began early to train for this run, hoping my progress would tell me whether or not I could compete.  I set a goal to run 6.2 miles by early March, about one month before the race.  I did not make that goal.  I had trained at 4, 4.5, and 5 miles, but had not reached 10K yet.  I began to think that I probably would not run this race, and a part of me felt disappointed, in myself mostly.

One Week Before

Time was getting close.  I needed to make a decision soon in order to register.  So one morning I sat down on my beloved back porch and tried to discern about the wisdom of doing this race.  I asked myself these questions:

What is really holding me back?    Fear, mostly.

Do I want fear to limit myself?  Do I always want to remain in my comfort zone?  No.  I want to push myself a bit.  I want to stretch to a new level.  Yes, I want to set a goal that would push and stretch me, but would do so safely.

Do I have the ability to perform at this level?   I’d done a few 10K races in the past but not with this steep elevation.   I decided to go to the gym and test out my ability on the treadmill.

With the treadmill set at a significant slope, I ran 6.2 miles.  At one point, I had to slow down and cool off, but I did complete the distance.   My decision was made.  I’m going to run the Bridge Run.  I came home, registered, and began to chronicle the thoughts, feelings, fears, and events of the week before the race.

March 28, Six Days Before

It was a hot Monday afternoon when I completed five outdoor miles on my run.  My pulse kept elevating, probably due to the heat, and my legs felt tired.  It was a hard run, but I held on to the hope that I could complete the upcoming race.  I won’t know if I can do it, I thought, until I do it.

March 30-31, Two – Three Days Before

It was the Wednesday before the race when I became sick, fighting some kind of virus. I became concerned because I knew I could not do this difficult run with less than 100% physical energy and well-being. By Thursday evening I was feeling much better.  But I also felt alternately scared and excited.   I was ready to stop thinking about this race and do it!

April 1, The Day Before

That afternoon I went to the Expo to pick up my bib and other materials.  Accompanied by my husband Rick, I enjoyed looking at the various booths selling all things running: shoes, clothes, treats.  Excitement was the mood of the day.

The weather, however, proved to be a concern.  All week forecasts had shown the likelihood of rain Saturday morning, but on Friday evening a tornado watch was posted in Charleston.  No race would be held in threatening weather, and I watched the weather updates closely.  The watch passed late in the evening but rain would be present for the race, making decisions about how to dress for the race  more complicated.  The evening was filled with anxiety.  Would I even sleep?  I did, but not much.

April 2, Race Day

On race day I got up at 4:15 a.m., checked the weather, dressed for the race, ate breakfast and headed out the door to North Charleston, where I caught the shuttle that would take me to the starting line.  This would be a busy race, with nearly 36,000 people participating.

Runners waited in their “corral” or “wave” for the start of the race.  Assigned to a later wave and surrounded by other sleep-deprived runners, I slowly advanced to the start line.  At the “go,” we took off, looking ahead for the anticipated Ravenel Bridge.

The 4.1% slope up the bridge is nearly one mile long, and the longer I ran, the more tired my legs felt.  Nevertheless, I was determined to keep running and I did, though slowly.  What a relief to reach the top and head back down, but at that point I was only half-way finished. I had another three miles to go.  One foot in front of the other.  Every step a closer arrival to the goal.  And that’s how I finished the 39th Annual Cooper River Bridge Run!

Now it was time to sit down and enjoy a bagel and banana.  And that’s exactly what I did.

What Did I Learn?

Bring my own water next year.  Hydration was an issue and part of my struggle out on the course.

Strengthen those quads!  The quadriceps want to be your best friend on that bridge!

Feel good about my accomplishment.    Running encourages me to challenge myself beyond what I think I can do.  Perhaps there is something about the human spirit that wants to soar, transcend itself, and running does this for me.

Enjoy your next goals.  I enjoy setting goals and immersing myself in a meaningful project. Choosing this race helped me move past my fear, something that has never been easy for me.  I can let this memory help me apply this lesson to other parts of my life, reminding me that a fulfilling life sometimes involves risk-taking.

Will I Run this Race in the Future?

I hope so!  This race will always be a challenge that’s waiting for me, calling me to stretch just a little more…and a little more.

Bridge run