Faith Works 6-23-12
Repetition, again and again
Last weekend I ended up, by an odd and delightful chain of coincidences, standing and talking for a while with Matt Romney.
He's got a father who's been in the news and in the Newark area recently, and is a father himself.
You might or might not be surprised to know he wasn't entirely thrilled about the idea of dad running for public office again, because at 39 he's been through this before, and knows the hard work that is a modern political campaign, air conditioned buses or not.
"So how do you end up enjoying this?" I asked, not telling him I wrote a weekly column on faith and life, but not really thinking about the column, truly.
His answer, which I can't quote precisely, so I won't pretend to put it in quotes, was that in each place, he looks around and tries to find what's unique, what's particularly characteristic, of the place and the people, and reflect on what that special quality has to teach him.
This may not sound like much, and it beats doing dishes or raking dross off a blast furnace ladle in the mill, but it's a skill, a practice (I would argue) that few have mastered. For most of us, riding a bus from stop to stop, scanning a script that doesn't change much, stepping out into a space between barricades lined with sunglassed dark suited men talking into their sleeves, and shaking a few hundred hands before getting on the bus and . . . yes, doing it again, and again, and again: it gets old. You get pro forma and ritual and mechanical, and your face starts to get stiff and the answers canned, tasting of tin when they come out.
To look out at a crowd, look around a courthouse square (which often looks remarkably similar from town to town, let's be honest), and scan the faces and the platform, and find what's new, what's worth absorbing and reflecting upon: it's an almost spiritual act. Matt said that the more he did this – looked for the particular and the special – the more he found it, and enjoyed it. And I think that enjoyment showed.
My own son, on that Father's Day, got up to do something he'd done many times before, leading a group in the Pledge of Allegiance. It's a familiar act, but one that can be dangerous in how familiar it is until something unusual happens, and then you suddenly can't even think of the words.
The Lad hit his cue and his mark, ready to speak clearly and directly into the microphone, an object which also holds no terrors for him, but there was a glitch. The plan was that the color guard would be to one side, and he was ready to turn as the crowd joined in, but due to a quirk of the staging, the flags ended up directly behind him.
He handled the awkward pivot like a pro, starting to the front, spinning right around as it went on, and at the close shook hands with the mayor like he'd been doing this all his life, and calmly strode off stage.
This is the same young man who, earlier in the week, had said to me with horror after the first day at Cub Scout Day Camp as part of the Scout staff: "I have to do the same thing every hour, exactly the same, over and over!"
"Yes, and . . .?" Dad responded unsympathetically. But we talked about this, and the fact that much of life is repetitive, and there's just not much you can do to change that. Doing dishes, taking out the trash, shopping at the grocery, folding the laundry, filing papers, clearing the supply shelves, sweeping the shop floor . . .
What you CAN change is . . . you. Your approach, your understanding, your awareness. Why are you reacting negatively to a new chance to do something worthwhile for or with a different group of people? "But it's the same thing!"
Actually, it isn't. And every courthouse square across America is uniquely itself, and even two identical buses apparently (so I'm told) have switches in different places, and when I really think about it, each time I pray the Lord's Prayer, it's different. A different day, different circumstances, changed inflections, new people standing nearby saying it with a slightly different emphasis.
Could repetition, as much as variety, be the spice of life? Do our beliefs about the world and what it means help us see value and specialness where the world-as-it-is sees sameness and monotony?
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in central Ohio; tell him a story, even a twice-told tale, at email@example.com or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.