Sunday, January 14, 2024

The daily rituals that make up the gaps that make up a life

"There's a lot of beauty in ordinary things."
Pam Beesly-The Office

“Life is not measured by time. It is measured by moments.”
Armin Houman

I recently watched a little animated series called “Carol and the End of the World.” It’s about a woman who continues to go to work as an administrative assistant, despite the fact the world is going to be hit by another planet in a few months and is coming to an end. And she’s not the only one. Hundreds of people go to work at “The distraction,” every day while the rest of the world loses itself in hedonism, religion etc.

Ask a lot of people what they would do if they won the lottery, and many will tell you they would quit their job immediately. But a much smaller minority will tell you they would probably just keep on working. This show is about that group.

When asked about his motivation to create the show, the writer said the show was, “A love letter to routine. A show about the comforts of monotony. An animated existential comedy about the daily rituals that make up the gaps that make up a life.

And for some reason I couldn’t get that last line out of my mind.

“The daily rituals that make up the gaps that make up a life.”

I started making an inventory of some of my life’s rituals. I chat with my elderly neighbour about the weather and what’s going on in our little town nearly every day. When I go to the gym, I make some kind of light-hearted, self-deprecating remark to the manager about working out and my disdain for it. There’s a young waitress at the coffee shop I go to every day who noticed me reading my Kindle, and now we talk about what we are reading and give each other recommendations.

Just a lot of little things. Those are a few that jump out to me. A bunch of small interactions each day that on their own don’t amount to much more than a little good-natured banter. Each of these interactions are just an N of 1. Unimportant in the grand scheme of things and just little moments that most people have over the course of a day. 

The gaps that make up life.

But when you start tallying up all these sums, they just might equal a good day, a great year, and even a happy life.

Because when you think about the gaps that make up a life, that’s a lot of time to account for. And we use a whole lot of that time walking around in a daze. Headphones on, face buried in our phones, lost in our own ruminations and worries. As David Foster Wallace says, “It is extremely difficult to stay alert & attentive instead of getting hypnotized by the constant monologue inside your own head.”

And I think for a lot of people filling the “gaps” isn’t even about other people. Maybe it’s the way they go to the bank, or clean their house, or get their hair cut once a month on a Tuesday.  I think one of the reasons a lot of people struggled during Covid was because these routines became disrupted. It’s the same reason a lot of people struggle when they are newly retired. The same reason it’s not always good for people with mental health issues to take too much time off of work when they are feeling down.

Rituals and routines serve a purpose. Perhaps a bigger one than we even realize.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have often considered routine to be a kind of enemy in my life. I was always about taking the big swings. Visiting that exotic country. Seeing that gorgeous place. Continuing to complete that bucket list.

But if I’m REALLY honest about my travels? I often remember my little interactions with people a lot more than the beautiful location. When I was in Bali recently I had to walk past a block of shopkeepers on the way to the beach, and ended up enjoying my morning banter with them over the course of the week a lot more than seeing the sites.

This is new kind of self-discovery for me. Although I philosophically understand the idea that it’s not the destination but the journey, I think I never stopped to consider how the minutiae of the journey could actually have such meaning.

In closing I will close with a little vignette from Mark Duplass about how he needed a day to slow down and enjoy his daily rituals and moments.

A good lesson for us all.