Beauty in the Ordinary

Like a bear in winter, I’ve been in a version of hibernation these days. It’s as if Ingrid Michaelson is seeing directly into my soul with her song “Keep Breathing,” which includes the lyrics: “I want to change the world. Instead, I sleep.”

Mastering sloth mode (as a friend aptly put it) wasn’t my plan or where I expected to be at this point. But as my Dad once told me, bodies are inconvenient. We can eat all the antioxidants, meditate, and go to check-ups, yet we have far less control over our health than we think. When setbacks happen, it’s like being yanked onto a train you had no intention of ever boarding. Priorities shift, routines fall away, and the brain switches into a survival mindset. You’d like very much to run away — but the problem is your body, therefore you can’t.

In the throes of dealing with medical crapola, the lens through which I saw the world was clouded with anger and sadness. This November as the holidays approached, my schedule ballooned with appointments I wished I didn’t need. Walking through the parking lot of a medical clinic one day, past banks of gray-tinted snow and scattered pine needles, I saw a couple of planter boxes decorated with shiny red ornaments. The attempt at festivity got under my skin. I wanted to scold whoever thought the decorations were a good idea. “Don’t try to convince me this is a happy, cheerful place. I hate it here!”

At the grocery store another day, the cashier was bright and bubbly as I checked out. “Any fun plans for the week?”

I mentally clicked through my list of to-do’s and felt instantly depressed. “Nothing much,” I chirped back, hating the false breeziness in my voice, the unwritten social rule that compelled me to hide the truth.

If you’re lucky, the hard times don’t stay. Life stabilizes. You start to think beyond the crisis once again, about stuff like grocery lists and school fundraisers and taking that trip you’d been postponing.

But no matter how put together you look on the outside, you still feel wobbly on the inside. It feels safer to stay tucked away, scanning the world for any hints of more trouble. Waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop, even though there shouldn’t be any more shoes, not now.

To borrow a metaphor from a wise therapist: After a crisis, a storm cloud’s still hanging over your head. It might never rain again. But you can’t forget the cloud exists.

Still, there are moments when the cloud fades into the background and the ordinary, seemingly mundane aspects of life grab your attention in a way they didn’t before. This week after dropping the kids off at school, I paused at a busy intersection — the same one I navigate each weekday — and waited for the light to change. In that moment I took it all in: the metallic sky covered in gauzy clouds, the cars zipping by in a blur, the tidy geometric angles of the buildings across the street. The simple scene was anything but spectacular. But it stirred something in me, a gratitude and lightness I hadn’t felt in months.

It’s those unexpected sparks that can ultimately pull us back into some tenuous new normal, make us feel energized enough to leave our cozy nests behind and re-engage with the world. For me, it’s been moments like post-Valentine’s Day strawberry shortcake with a friend. A dog walk through the park, the trails slushy from last week’s snowfall. A fresh stack of books from the library. Bluebirds grazing at the backyard feeders, vibrant against the muted colors of winter.

Bear don’t hibernate forever, and thankfully, nor will I.

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