Seasons come and go, but it is the same day always. Whatever the vagaries of weather, it is the same morning, noon, and night. The toothbrush in the mug on the bathroom sink brackets your existence. The regularity of our lives can take on the feeling of drudgery.
There are those, like the artists among us, who avoid this predicament. My friend Sal, in his 95th year, goes to his studio every day in excited anticipation. Writers have that blank page taunting them and the daily struggle to find just the right word, and then the next, and then another. Scientists rise each morning to peel another layer of the unknown from whatever it is they are studying. Activists with causes also see each day as a challenge. Some men go to war to try to discover the specialness of life. And there are many others, including those trying to build an enduring business from scratch.
But for the vast majority of us it can be hard to find that spark, to find value in this day, one of a finite number allotted to each of us. One way many avoid the ennui I am describing is to go to work, which has a way of drawing us out of ourselves and mixing us with others. Those who have retired from active careers sometimes find it hard to adapt to a life that is entirely of their own making. Depression and anxiety are on the rise, as is the tag-along phenomenon of addiction, in part due to this seeming meaningless of life. The pandemic exacerbated this.
It is all about perspective, attitude. There is magic and joy to be found in the everyday, just to be alive and open to all that is around you. It has to start with you. But how to get there? The natural world is often my go-to remedy, but there are times when even the glory of the tides, of bubble-feeding humpback whales, of a black velvet sky pierced with diamond stars cannot budge me out of my funk.
It is then that I turn to people. “Getting together is one of life’s necessities,” says Mary Heaton Vorse in Time and the Town. She is absolutely right. The daily interactions we have in our small-town life imbue a richness to our existences that cannot be overstated. The most insignificant errand can result in an interaction that lifts us out of ourselves and brings us into a sense of community and belonging.
Vorse went on to complain about, of all things, the advent of mail delivery: “General delivery robbed this town, as many other towns, of the great social event of the day — getting the evening mail.… All the town was there. Friends met once a day; the east and west ends of town came together.”
Coming together is what it is all about. There were so many important items on my things-to-do list yesterday, but first I had that old mattress and box spring to bring out to the transfer station. What should have taken a few minutes ended up being a half hour, as I talked to James about the wildlife he has seen this summer and ran into Jim and Steve, and then John, another friend. We talked “at the two extremes of the general or the particular,” as James Agee describes such encounters in A Death in the Family.
Then I was off to Conwell Lumber for a sheet of plywood; again a simple transaction occupied half an hour as Devon and Oliver and my friend Travis conversed in that beautiful Jamaican patois. I tried to keep up. On the way home, I saw my buddy Adam: “Hi, Cuz!”
Later, at Seaman’s, I chatted with Cheryl and Lori, and dropping by the Dolphin office I hung out with Roberta, and then out on the wharf with Vaughn and Steve and Marjorie. Still later, at Stop & Shop, I had a serious conversation with a friend in the produce department and then had the good fortune to see Barb at checkout. On the way home, I ran into my longtime friend (and plumber) Keith and then my neighbor Ron. I talked with all of them — and others, too.
From start to finish, my day was a grand party.