I am not in the regular rotation when it comes to walking our rescue dog, Jake, especially at night. Dennis and Olivia handle most of the dog-walking duties in our household. But one recent Saturday night, with Dennis out of town with Chiara for a gymnastics competition and Olivia already one walk in for the day, I leashed up our pup and headed out into the cold, black night. Before I even stepped off the porch, I wanted to be done and back inside with a hot cup of tea warming my hands. I tugged at Jake’s leash and impatiently tried to move him along as he lingered too long, sniffing at twigs and snow mounds, street posts and trash cans. Then, as we rounded the corner, I finally lifted my gaze from the snow-covered asphalt and found myself face to face with Orion the Hunter overhead in the winter sky.
I practically gasped at the enormity and clarity of the constellation’s outline, and I smiled at the familiar star pattern that has been my favorite ever since my third-grade teacher at Evans Park Elementary School showed me how to locate it—the three stars tight in a row marking Orion’s belt, making it easy to spot even on an overcast night, at least during these winter months.
What amazed me most of all that night was that I had almost missed all of that beauty, all of that splendor, not because I didn’t know what to look for, but because I simply hadn’t even bothered to lift my head and look up. So intent was I on just getting through the chore, I almost missed the magic. How often do we do that, rush headlong through something and miss the real moment, the spark of the divine right there in the everyday? And, even after we get a taste of that magic, how quickly we forget and go right back to dreading the chore, avoiding the task, averting our eyes.
A couple of months ago, I had a similar experience when our dishwasher died. Time and again, when we would hear the telltale ding of an error message, we’d re-run the cycle—sometimes four or five times in a row—in an effort to get the dishes clean without getting our hands wet. Finally, we surrendered, accepting the fact that for the foreseeable future we had no dishwasher. Dennis headed to the store to buy a drain rack so we could start doing dishes the old-fashioned way. One of our three children marveled at this strange contraption, wondering how it “worked.” Another saw me with my hands in sudsy water and asked if she might try since it looked so “fun.” I flashed back to my own young childhood, when our home had no dishwasher at all, and I was the nightly dryer of dishes, standing beside my mother begrudgingly with towel in hand.
As I soaked the dishes, up to my elbows in warmth and bubbles, looking out the kitchen window at squirrels and birds moving about the backyard, I felt…what was it? Peace. Maybe even joy. Definitely satisfaction. This long-lost simple pleasure, this chore, was, in reality, a welcome break from the chaos of life, giving me reason to pause, to stand in one place with nowhere to go and to meditatively move my hands in circles as I scrubbed the plates and pots.
Although I try almost daily to intentionally take notice of the everyday graces evident all around me as I go about my day, most of the time I’m too consumed with whatever is on my To Do list to bother to look up and take notice of the moments forming beautiful constellations against the backdrop of my life.
What chore do you trudge through impatiently each day, looking past the moment to when it will just be done? What would happen if you stopped for a minute and looked up?
This column first appeared in the Feb. 1, 2017, issue of Catholic New York.