It should be ordinary time.

After all the sugar and decadence and bling of the holiday season, it should be ordinary time. We should be packing away the twinkling lights and red bows and snowmen and ornaments for another year. We should be taking down the garlands and taking up the rituals and routines of our normal lives. January should, if it were ordinary times, be a mishmash of new intentions and old habits, accompanied by grey winter skies and cold temperatures.

But alas, this is anything but ordinary time.

I find myself almost tiptoeing into this new year, reluctant to face the unknown. The future is always unknown, yes, I know that. But at the moment, whiplashed by fires and Covid surges and closures and cancellations, it feels more unknown than ever. If there was a lesson to be wrung out of the early days of the pandemic, it was to understand and to learn to accept how little control we really had. We still need to be reminded of that lesson, for sure, but it comes with a new corollary: the future is unknown. Always.

Mishmash. Perhaps this is the word that best describes our current state of being in these strange, troubled times. Even the recent holidays were a sort of mashup of traditions and emotions and anxieties and comforts. On one hand, after the numbing isolation of last December, the social festivities of this year (Vaccinated? Yes! Let’s the party roll…) were a welcomed balm to our starved souls. We had friends and family who visited; I had a record number of former students come by for tea and conversation in singles, pairs and groups. I talked on the phone with both of my sisters, as well as a college roommate and a friend living in China. I made soup. So much soup. Even the inevitable exhaustion that hit us after the chockablock schedule of services and concerts was relished for its normalcy.

But still the shadows lingered, the sense of anxious suspension prevailed. Faced with a brand-new, empty calendar, I procrastinated making any decisions regarding scheduling performance classes or committing to a spring recital. 2022 seemed incomprehensible, really, and seriously considering all those dates—March 13th? February 4th? May 22nd?—felt a bit like playing make-believe. Right up until the last minute, I even considered putting off the beginning of the semester and not returning to lessons as planned on January 2nd, for no reason other than I was struggling to drag myself forward into this vast new year. Such strange, strange times. Not ordinary at all.Perhaps that is the root of my reluctance. I’m over the novelty of the extraordinary, and ready for the mundane. Last Saturday, putting away the cranberry garlands that spend the holidays on the mantle felt almost like an act of self-care. It was as if the chores of packing away tissue paper and gift bags and pop-up books and sifting through the rubbish and excesses of the last month somehow might sort out my muddled inner state. Almost.

It may be a good time to channel our inner Trollope.

The Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope spent his days working in the British Postal Service, but still managed to churn out 40-some novel by writing his set number of pages in the early morning hours. We are charged, in these weird, unsettling days, to make our own ordinary time. To write our books, to sit down at the piano bench or on the meditation cushion, to swim our laps, to pencil in our appointments and classes and intentions into the blank pages of the new year. When I said to a Little One last Wednesday that this week would be “normal,” meaning five practice boxes, I could almost see him breathing a sigh of relief. We may not have a clear grasp on what constitutes a Covid exposure or a responsible quarantine these days, but five practice boxes we understand.

I say: Find the ordinary where we can. Take note of the paperwhites still blooming in the kitchen windowsill, and the gold finches chattering at the feeders. Light candles on a Tuesday night; sink into hot bath after an evening walk in the cold. Practice Bach, and fill in practice boxes and empty calendars with freshly-sharpened colored pencils. Stay up late reading with a cup of tea on the bedside table. Walk to the neighborhood bakery for warm bread; make soup. Lots of soup.

Of course, in the end, the extraordinary blurs into the ordinary and back again. Hold it precious. All of it.

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