“Which are the magic / moments in ordinary time?” Tim Dlugos asks to begin his poem “Ordinary Time.” It seems at first that the words “magic” and “ordinary” clash, so perhaps Dlugos’ question is one of sarcasm. What surprises can possibly pop from a thing so known, so worn, so normal?
I have been training for my first half-marathon this summer. The race has been put off three or four times (as with so many things) due to the pandemic, and so I’ve started and stopped training in earnest since January 2020. I think I’ve run in every possible type of weather the good state of Michigan has to offer.
Running and writing teach me so many lessons about endurance, about exploration and curiosity, about patience. They are, in essence, rather ordinary activities that hold quite a bit of magic, if I’m wiling to work for it. What’s more, that magic transforms me and pushes me to see it in seemingly everyday ordinary things.
I often end my runs at York, a neighborhood haunt, and last week after I ordered a coffee, I walked over to the pick-up part of the counter and there, in all its former glory, was the water jug and a stack of cups just waiting to be filled.
We could fill them for ourselves.
“The water’s back!” I exclaimed as I lifted a cup from the stack, held it under the spigot, and turned it, feeling the weight of the rush of water filling my cup. “This is no small thing,” I said to anyone who would listen.
Recently on a longer run, I’d made it through Nickels Arboretum, a favorite spot, only to find myself exhausted, thirsty, overwhelmed, and — sorry Mr. Frost — I had miles to go before I could collapse.
“You know this,” writing whispered to me. “You know what this is. You’ve been through it before. You can do it again.”
This is what I mean when I claim writing and running work together to teach me and to help move me forward. I know what failure and disappointment feel like. I know what it means to be discouraged and lost. I also know the deep joy and contentment there is in being willing to look again, to keep trying, to be open to let the magic transform the ordinary.
That afternoon, just beyond the peony garden was a water fountain that for over a year had been closed. Upon seeing it open, I became like one of those cartoon characters whose desperate thirst turns imagination into hope.
“Water,” I gasped and stumbled toward the fountain.
It was on.
I slurped that water up like a kid who’d just come in from recess. Never had water tasted so, well, so magical. And this is dramatic, but I started to cry. I cried because I am trying to finish my third book and I am trying to run 13 miles and they are both so hard and so humbling, and I don’t know if I can do either one. I cried because I understand and accept that the fact that the possibility of failure doesn’t dampen at all my desire to try. I cried because something so simple yet necessary, like a public water fountain, had to be turned off because it was too dangerous to drink from. I cried because it was turned back on. I cried because my muscles felt strong, my legs felt loose, and I felt refreshed and willing to try to finish.
Magic that shimmers from the ordinary comes from our willingness to try. And that takes work. I don’t think Tim Dlugos was being sarcastic at all. I think his question is a call for all of us ordinary people living ordinary lives in this ordinary time.
This week, work to shake the magic out from your ordinary life and write a poem about it.
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If you have ever been in 8th grade, fallen in love, had a best friend, or loved reading, you will love this book. As the mother of an 8th grader, my other genuine hope is that my son will one day have a teacher as gifted as Callie.