The great relief of the mundane

~a column by Colleen O’Brien

A new acquaintance told me a story of her “coming through” major cancer surgery, as she said. She had been ill a long time, she had been doing chemo a long time, she had lost her hair a long time ago, along with her strength and her will. She thought she would be dead within the year.

The chemo and surgery worked, however, and she “came through” a healthy woman.

“What surprised me most,” she said. “was that I once again had the feeling that I’d had all my life of having no time line with a period at the end. We know death will come someday, but it is in the future, it’s not close. I was suddenly thinking like I’d thought before I was diagnosed. I had my life back and it was just like my old life – not having to think every minute how long I had left.”

She said the normalcy of life after cancer was what thrilled her. She was grateful to be alive, yes. She was hopeful her cancer was banished forever. But she did not feel she’d been saved for some special reason; she simply felt that she had returned to her life, to the way she’d felt all her life. With one difference: now, she recognized what a normal life was – to plan events and trips, to work, to do nothing, to wander through her mind, to think about things that didn’t matter, to live as she always had in the minutia of the day.

The normalcy of life is not something we think about much, let alone praise. We talk about the high points, not the everyday routine. Relishing the mundane probably happens only to survivors . . . of cancer, of heart attack, of war, of car crash, maybe of close call; that slide by of the specter of death almost clipping us as his car careens from another lane right into our lane on the interstate, and for no reason at all we are allowed to drive on, unscathed.

The call to death that we all know is our end . . . when it recedes once again into a distant future is what normalcy is. To meet it up close and survive it, to remain in the world doing nothing much but one’s day-to-day busyness or lassitude – doing the dishes and the crossword puzzle, watching an old movie, playing Candyland with the kids for the thousandth time, cutting the grass. It is indeed the normal things that count. It is the small stuff that slips through our hours and our days with no fanfare and little thought that might be the best part of our lives.

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