So much of life involves the careful, absentminded completion of tasks. Take wiping the table. I must pay attention to the congealing syrup; to the crumbs teetering precariously on the edge of the wood, and others scattered on the bench; to the construction paper projects threatened by stray threads of moist streaks. Yet as I watch and wipe, I am free to also engage in a life of the mind. Marveling at the solidifying powers of sugar. Thinking how one material can take on numerous forms, in physical matter and in spiritual. Pondering Ezekiel’s anguish over God’s coming judgement and the prophet’s simultaneous obedience to preach it. Wondering why Dostoevsky wrote The Idiot. Contemplating the tedious, hugely creative process of writing. Musing how slowly nerves at the ends of fingers regenerate–or even if they do–after frostbite.
We can resent the mundane and the petty demands on our time. Many of those things we deem interruptions of important jobs, of work that matters. I do this too often. For these tasks do matter, in and of themselves. Tables must be clean, for sanitary as well as aesthetic reasons. And cleaning one also gives me time to think on things freely, without a particular pattern and without a definite aim. With other, more demanding jobs, I otherwise would feel obligated to mentally shelve my meandering thoughts, out of deference to the Immediate and Important. So how precious are these few moments. How rich can be a simple scrub, a moment of pondering.