When my summer helper, Brynn, tackles the pile of dirty dishes that a household of four or five people can generate, I don’t think of it as particularly magical. But Brynn says, “There is magic in the mundane,” and there’s probably nothing quite as mundane as dishwashing.
For Brynn, plunging her hands into hot soapy water starts an enjoyable, restful meditative process. No question that the process ends with undeniable results: the dishes will get dirty again but for now they are clean and the job is truly done. It feels like magic.
This set off a kitchen conversation about what mundane activity might create magic. Sarah, my niece who lives here; Cris, another summer helper like Brynn; and Deanna, who like Brynn and Cris, first came as a World Wide Opportunity in Organic Farming volunteer; and I debated so energetically that I entirely forgot a pan of zucchini I had put into the oven which predictably turned into cinders.
Sarah and Cris went to the dump this week with a very mundane load of recyclables and bona fide garbage…
Mundane merely means “of the world,” usually secular, especially in its earliest uses centuries ago, and acquired its meaning of dull or uninteresting only by the middle of the 1800s, a mere blink in time. Magic is the art of “producing marvels using hidden natural forces.” I suppose producing rest and meditative moments in a dishpan might, by that definition, be magic.
Now, I know you have heard the saying, “Be careful what you ask for.” I wouldn’t pester God with a request that the Lord send me a cat. I’d rather pray for peace or healing for humankind. But I’ve “asked” the universe for a cat, having given strays a home when they show up.
Last fall, I sent a longing for a cat out into the world, though none showed up. Sometimes, I find, the universe is a little slow on the up-take, or perhaps this time it simply knew that the soft, loveable little fellow by the name of Yandro who lives here now would lose his owner in the spring. There’s an element of Yandro’s appearance being a marvel produced by hidden forces.
That leads us to another mundane activity that our kitchen conversationalists agreed sometimes produced marvels magically. Going to the dump. Like most town dumps around here, ours was capped off years ago to be replaced by a transfer facility. We have a swop shop, too, where useful but merely unwanted items await adoption.
There are pans in my kitchen found at the dump, along with a coffee maker, toaster, microwave, some handsome soup plates, and lots of baskets. Recently, the swop shop determined it would no longer accept coffee makers, so when the one I have now finally blows, I might actually have to spend money.
Once I called up a friend who was an attendant there to say I needed a twin bed mattress and he declared that two twin bedsteads with clean mattresses had just been dropped off. Like magic.
So Sarah and Cris went to the dump this week with a very mundane load of recyclables and bona fide garbage in Sarah’s pickup. Sometime during the errand they talked about it maybe being time to acquire a riding lawn mower (due to the advancing years of the owner of this establishment, the amount of grass around the large gardens and fruit trees, and how many ticks can hide in it). Sort of a request sent into the universe. They left the dump, tooling around the head of the island, coming home the long way. Passing the end of a long driveway, they spotted a riding mower. A sign on it said “Free”!
They hitched it to Sarah’s truck and Cris hopped on and rode the tow back to the house, Sarah turning it into a parade by beeping her horn and Cris exuberantly waving his arms as she pulled up into the driveway. With new mower blades, fresh oil, and a tank of gas, it seems to need a new battery, and maybe there is a new alternator in its future, but, shoot, it’s a thousand dollars’ worth of mower they picked up.
A wish sent into the universe on a mundane errand turning into magic? Works for me.
Sandy Oliver is a food historian who gardens, cooks, and writes on Islesboro.