So on the weekends, I work a second job as a janitor. I spend eight hours cleaning a church and getting it ready for Sunday morning. Although I do enjoy the work, eight hours cleaning by myself goes a lot quicker when I have something to listen to. So I generally alternate between Pandora and different podcasts. Lately, I’ve been listening to a podcast covering Israel’s exodus from Egypt to Canaan. Specifically, this past week dealt with the 40 years exile in the desert. The thing of note for me that comes out of the 40 years wandering in the desert is not really any single anecdote but really the marked lack of narrative that comes from the entire 40 year time period. The majority of the writing from that time is the giving of the law. I looked over the summary of the 40 years from the desert and found that really there are only about 20 stories that come from that time and most of them surround the giving of the law.
Now whether or not you believe in the historicity of the Exodus account or not, I believe that we can still glean a huge single truth about the human experience from this text. To have only 20 stories come from a period of 40 years tells me that in life, there will be some highs of note, some lows of note, and a few major events to record, but many many more days of mundane routine. I mean think about it. Out of a 40 year period, there were only about 20 noteworthy experiences. That’s one event every two years.
This is something I’ve come to struggle with lately. At my core, I’ve always felt that I’m an adventurer. I’m a traveler, a soldier, a student, etc. I’ve always had some sort of quest on the horizon driving me forward. Lately however, I’ve felt that life has just gotten very routine and mundane. It’s hard not to think that some of the adventure is over, at least for a while. Each day seems to be a lot more of what the last day was. This is true in both my job and at home. It’s wake up, go to work, follow my teaching schedule, plan the next day or week, and go home. At home it’s get home, get dinner ready, fight to get the kids to eat dinner, baths, storytime, dishes, and bed. Then we sleep a couple hours and repeat it.
I think it would be very easy to fall into an emotional and even spiritual malaise simply following this same routine. However, I’ve decided to start something to try to find beauty and purpose in the slew of mundane days of routine that happen between the highs and lows that make up the big events in our lives. I think that there is great beauty to be found in the mundane. Although events may seem small and insignificant, that does not mean that they are not worthy of committing to memory. So, A few times a month, I’ll be sharing simple stories that, although not extremely significant or life changing, made my day better through laughter. Without further ado, here is the first few stories in the series “Memories in the Mundane.”
It’s Good for Your Life!
It was my first year of teaching. I had started collecting books for my room from library book sales or donations. I had built up a pretty decent supply of books and was starting to allow students to check books out and take them home. I had two of my second grade students, we’ll call them Joe and Bob, in my classroom picking out books to take home. They were perusing the shelves together when they came across a series of books based on stories from the Bible. Bob looked back and me and said, “Mr. Steidl, why do you have Bible stories here?” Before I even had the chance to answer, Joe turned around and yelled, “BECAUSE IT’S GOOD FOR YOUR LIFE!!!” and punched Bob right in the stomach. I feel like there’s some hidden metaphor in here about how the modern day evangelical church handles things but that’s probably a different post for a different time :).
Marshmallows and Shrimp
This story takes place in a first grade classroom. A big skill for primary age children is being able to categorize information. It is how our brains work most efficiently. So, in ourmorning meeting, I go around to my first graders and give them a topic and exercise that practices phonemic awareness. For example I’ll say, “Today when it comes to your turn, tell me your favorite animal and another animal that begins with the same letter and your animal.” On this particular day, the topic was fruit. The students had to tell me their favorite fruit and the number of syllables in that fruit’s name. We went around the circle and students were telling me strawberries, bananas, apples, etc. It came to a girl who we will call Jane. I said, “Jane, what is your favorite fruit?” She looked me dead in the eye and said, “Marshmallows.” I said, “Honey, marshmallows are not a fruit.” This fact simply blew her away. “Whaaaaaat!?!?!” I gave her three examples of fruit and asked her again what her favorite fruit was. She said, “You’re for real telling me that a marshmallow is not a fruit?” I said, “That is exactly what I’m telling you.” She replied, “Well, I guess if marshmallows are not a fruit, then I’m gonna have to go with…shrimp.” I have no way to quantify this, but I believe that shrimp is actually less of a fruit than marshmallows.
The Falling V
This story really isn’t as much a story as an image that I will forever have etched into my memory. I was teaching my fifth grade ESL/Title One reading group. There was a boy who we will call Tyrell who was forever leaning back on his chair. I had to remind him about three times every day to put all four legs of his chair back on the ground. To no avail. It’s not that he was defiant, he just had a bad habit of leaning back in his chair. The image I have forever burned into my mind is of when he finally tipped over backwards. His legs flew up up and spread apart in a V and hung there for about 4 seconds while Tyrell was trying to decide to continue the roll over backwards, roll to the side, or try to sit up forward. Needless to say, we did not get much productive work done the rest of the period.