How does one respond when the ordinary meets the extraordinary? Much of my life is rounded in daily ordinary routines—commuting to work, attending my children’s school activities, making meals, and common household duties that bring their own small satisfactions. The hanging of laundry on the backyard line on a warm Saturday morning is a calming meditation with just me, the song birds, the line, clothes pins and a variety of garments. These ordinary routines ground me to the predictable. All that is being asked on my part is a small seed of attention. However, occasionally, the extraordinary enters, disrupting ordinary foundational routines. The extraordinary happened upon me when after 50+ years, I was reunited with my birth mother and establishing contact with my birth father’s family and learning of his recent passing.
I was two weeks old when I was given-up for adoption in 1967, my birth records in the state of Michigan being sealed. Through a lengthy legal and emotional process I recently gained limited but invaluable access to my once closed past. Without falling into a lengthy discourse of the emotional landscape of the adopted, issues surrounding birth-parents relinquishing their parental rights to the state, or fathers who are denied knowledge of their child, for our purposes we only need to know that I had been searching for my biological parents for nearly 30 years. Being reunited brought extraordinary circumstances and questions. How does one bridge a relational gap of 50 years? Weeks following the reunion with my mother I caught myself in the middle of the routine of the day, thinking, “Wait. I HAVE met my birth mother.” Conversely my birth mother as well had this same thought, “Wait, I HAVE met my son.” That was the reconstruction process—the old narrative of “not knowing” colliding with the new narrative of “knowing.” In my initial phone conversations with my birth mother and my birth-father’s widowed wife (my new step-mother) I offered, “50 years is a lot to catch-up on. Let’s just talk about today and, when we want, we can visit the past.” In other words, I would share the ordinary home routines and then maybe drop in a question about the past. I took this queue from author and analyst Robert Johnson who wrote about “stirring-the-oatmeal” love. He explains,
- Stirring the oatmeal is a humble act-not exciting or thrilling. But it symbolizes a relatedness that brings love down to earth. It represents a willingness to share ordinary human life, to find meaning in the simple, unromantic tasks: earning a living, living within a budget, putting out the garbage, feeding the baby in the middle of the night. To "stir the oatmeal" means to find the relatedness, the value, even the beauty, in simple and ordinary things, not to eternally demand a cosmic drama, an entertainment, or an extraordinary intensity in everything.
A reunion of a separated child and parent or the orphaned-bastard child returning unexpectedly to its birth family are things of Greek tragedy and Shakespearean drama. The only way for me to navigate the archetypal drama, and not get swept up in it was bringing the ordinary routine things into the fold.
A dream at this time confirmed this process of walking into this extraordinary experience with small, ordinary things. In the dream I am doing the routine of making a pot of coffee but now for my newly found family. As the coffee process finishes, I notice that only hot water has been produced—no coffee. Upon inspecting the coffee grinds I find that they have clumped together, with the water going around them instead of seeping through them. I realize I need to un-clump the grinds and not to rush the coffee-making process to produce this shared common cup. I spoke of this metaphor with my new step-mother, hoping it would serve as a vehicle for us to walk through our experience. Since our initial conversation, she began sending me a daily email about one fact of my late father, labeling them, “Coffee drip of the day.” Each e-mail has become a balm. Her titling it “coffee drip of the day” is a warm affirmation of relatedness. It reminds me of what Helen Luke expressed when dealing with the extraordinary in an ordinary way. She writes:
- To do the ordinary thing in an ordinary way is easy. To do the extraordinary thing in an extraordinary way is easy -- both these kinds of activity are very common indeed. But to do the ordinary thing in an extraordinary way and the extraordinary thing in an ordinary way is quite staggeringly difficult and very rare indeed. It is the way of the saints.