Friday, October 17, 2008

Life's Routines

We love them or we hate them, but they offer the stability that shapes our days and our lives. I'm talking about routines. Every day with leashed dog in tow, I walk my oldest boy to the school bus stop on the corner. And every day, as we wait and chat, our friend and neighbor joins us with his dog. Once the bus rolls out, my friend and I walk through the neighborhood discussing world events, daily happenings and everything in between.

This week, my friend's wife passed away. It was sudden and unexpected, and we are all still reeling from the shock of it. The day after her passing, I did not know what to expect while waiting at the bus stop, but my friend and his dog were there, ready to walk and talk. The walk went pretty well, and I was glad that he felt able to join me rather than withdrawing, as we can be apt to do in such instances.

As word of Mary's passing made its way through our neighborhood, the disbelief spread. Many did not know she had been sick; some had not seen my friend for some time, just because of the hubbub of life and their own routines. On the second day, we walked again and a strange thing happened. Our block, normally empty and quiet at 8:30am, was suddenly quite busy. Many neighbors who are usually off to work at this hour instead just happened to be out in their yards blowing leaves.

I didn't put two and two together at first, as we have had a lot of leaves fall in the last week or so. But by the time we reached the third person on their lawn, leaf blower blaring so loud that my friend and I could not hear each other, I realized what was going on. As my friend and I came within sight of these neighbors, the leaf blowers were turned off and my friend was approached. It was as if everyone had been trying to find some reason to be outside that day, doing 'necessary' tasks, but with one eye on the road for my friend so that they could offer condolences.

It could just be a coincidence. And before this, I would never have considered leaf blowers to be effective communication tools. But this week, they eased the way for those so concerned for my friend, and gave them a way to reach out to him without overwhelming him. They didn't have to come knock on his door, or call at what might not be a very good time. Instead, our neighbors used their wits and their lawn tools to bridge the uncomfortable sadness, turning these morning meetings into something resembling fortuitous timing.

Transparent? Perhaps. But it allowed people to console my friend, respect his privacy and let him continue in his morning routine. It's true that routines can often feel like drudgery. Yet at times like these, their existence can help maintain a type of normalcy, becoming the little things that fuel us and help keep us going.

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