I needed to be reminded of her today. The dailiness of life, the tasks and chores I do every day and then turn around and do again tomorrow, felt wearing. Whether I clean the kitchen floor knowing it will need it again tomorrow morning or finish the laundry and know I will start all over in a few days, the work remains the same: it’s done, it vanishes, and it needs to be done again.
Perhaps, the question at the heart of any routine human activity is, “Does this have meaning? Do I have meaning if what I do simply disappears?” Whether I clean a floor or weed a garden or rake the hay meadow, my efforts are temporary. The floor gets dirty, the garden gets weeds, and the horses will consume the hay this winter and Pete and I will hay all over again next summer.
Several years ago I came across a Buddhist quote that went something like this: “It doesn’t matter what you do, it matters how you do it.” When I remember the thought, I find it helpful to re-focus my efforts. I consciously slow down and begin to feel present to the task at hand: a complete sweep of my broom, a proper fold of the towels, or an extra glance at a weed hidden in foliage of a peony. Giving my full attention to the task helps me deal with its temporal nature. When I’m able to focus in this way, I experience a calming satisfaction and comfort in experiencing the world I’ve put in order.
Even though my grandmother struggled with the dailiness of life she continued to create a quiet ease in her home. Whenever I visited my grandfather and her, I felt a surety about the world. Whether she was in her kitchen washing dishes, making rolls, or layering her crisp sugar cookies in a tin, those simplest and most temporal of moments provided a hearth for anyone who sat at her small kitchen table.
I will continue to have days in which I struggle to find humor in life’s necessary tasks. Bu when I don’t want to grab a broom or sort the laundry or track down errant weeds, I am fortunate to have the memory of my grandmother smiling after having finished the most mundane of life’s chores.
To read more about my grandmother, please click on this link to read an excerpt from my manuscript titled, “Mabe”: http://www.marybkurtz.com/Excerptspage.html
For my grandmother’s cookie recipes, please visit my store at: http://www.marybkurtz.com/store.php
to purchase My Grandmother’s Kitchen: Recipes and Remembrances of Mabel Ide Mortensen.
*This revised essay was first posted in July of 2009.