A number of years ago, in a book of essays by Kathleen Norris (author of Dakota and other books of a spiritual nature), I learned a new word. I think that is always fun. A word ‘that trips along lightly on the tongue’ , that provides a new direction for the brain, is a jewel.
When I was in grade school I was intrigued with medulla oblongata which is the continuation of the spinal cord into the skull; then came ennui, a feeling of listlessness that comes from boredom; and there were others. Norris’ taught me the word quotidian which refers to things which happen daily, i.e. the ordinary tasks of everyday life.
I think another reason I liked the word was because instantly it reminded me of a prayer that was always on the mirror in my aunt’s bathroom. When I visited her I would read these words, “Thank God when you get up every morning that you have something which must be done today whether you want to do it or not.” And my grandfather who was quoted as saying, “Thank God for work.” And he meant it in a prayerful way.
In a society where retirement is the ultimate goal of every adult from 30-on, the idea of work is really a four-letter word in many cases. The dream of ‘having nothing to do’ is something people speak of longingly to the point that I find it rather odd. Having “work” is first of all a great blessing if you are jobless. I think of pictures of refugees who sit and stare at nothing day after day. I think of people who immigrate to find better work, something more satisfying. Or men and women in nursing homes who can no longer work and often say, “I wish I could do something again.”
To be without work, something to do, can be a curse depending on your circumstances. Norris’ word ‘quotidian’ intersects itself into the conversation with the reminder that all the daily tasks we perform -- mowing the yard, watering the flowers, baking a loaf of bread, washing up a sink of dirty dishes, throwing in a load of clothes, writing a thank-you are all part of the every day ‘work’ we do and there is a blessing in all those things.
I was visiting with a man who recently retired. He is finding great satisfaction in saying “yes” to many things -- big jobs and small, helping folks when they need an extra hand, trimming weeds around the church, taking care of the needs of his family. He is not alone. Many people volunteer. They want to help with projects in the community they did not have time to do before. It is good to be able to use your life’s skills in a way that gives you joy.
The gift of time comes when we are not bound by time constraints but can do those quotidian tasks with a sense of peace and great satisfaction, at our own time and place of choosing. Not much of the world has that luxury.