I cleaned the kitchen floor two days ago.  I got out the Swiffer WetJet with the little button on the handle that squirts some cleaning liquid on the floor to be wiped with the pad at the end of the mop handle.  It is not rocket science.  I didn’t break a sweat.  The floor looked nice afterward. 

I have an earned doctorate; at one time I could read with limited proficiency five languages (English, of course, plus Latin, Greek, Hebrew and German).  At this point I can barely handle English.  I will not bore you with the details of the work that I have done in my career.  Suffice it to say, I could complain that cleaning the kitchen floor with our Swiffer WetJet was hardly important enough to be very satisfying. 

There was something satisfying about sweeping the dirt off the floor (I tracked in some dirt earlier in the day), then squirting and rubbing until the spots were removed.  My days are mostly filled with pretty simple and mundane tasks.  I get Mary Ann to the bathroom, to the table, bring her pills and juice and yogurt and Cheerios or Special K or Cinnamon Toast or a banana or a granola bar for breakfast.  I clean out the commode from the night before, make the beds, get Mary Ann dressed, maybe wash her hair.  I put wash in the washer, switch it to the dryer, fold it and put it away.  I fill the dishwasher, run it and then empty it. 

There are very simple meals to be made for lunch and for supper.   We sometimes head out to get something to eat at one of our regular spots.  I feed the birds and read emails while Mary Ann watches television.  I suspect I will not be nominated for one of the Nobel prizes for notable accomplishments in household care.

The role of Caregiver does not bring with it great public recognition, although the article Linda wrote on our situation did give us a moment of notariety in our local paper.    Each of the things I do during the day seems to have little importance, little value in the grand scheme of things. 

Within the history of the spiritual journeys of leaders in many religious traditions, there is a certain approach to doing each task, important or not by external standards, in a way that recognizes its inherent value.  The Rule of St. Benedict provides great attention to detail. urging all to work at menial tasks no matter their status.  Celtic Spirituality emphasizes focusing full attention single-mindedly on the task at hand, no matter what it is. 

I was in a committee meeting one evening.  The group was a fairly congenial crew, at least most of the time.  We were gathered to evaluate candidates for an opening at the Elementary school sponsored by three congregations.  I am not sure what triggered the interaction, but somehow the matter of the need to multi-task came up.  One of the women in the group immediately said that recent studies of the brain had revealed that women’s brains were hardwired for multi-tasking, and men’s brains were not.  Now I have no idea of the validity of the information.  I did however have a wonderfully annoying reply.  I said that may be true, but men do one thing at a time and do it well.  After the laughter subsided we went on with the meeting.  I still don’t know what was so funny about that.  Actually, I couldn’t even complete the sentence about men doing one thing at a time and doing it well since I was laughing so hard myself. 

There is something to be said for doing one thing at a time and doing it well.  Another way to say it is that it is good to focus full attention on the task at hand, to immerse yourself in it, heart and soul, to avoid distractions as much as possible. 

It seems as if much of what we do is done as quickly as possible to get on to the next thing or the really important stuff.  There is a sense in which we simply miss a good portion of the life we are living day by day, in anticipation of what will come later in the day or tomorrow or later in the week. 

Rather than measuring the importance of each task by what importance it has to others, or how much value it has in the marketplace,  how about paying attention to the task itself.   A priest named Ed Hayes has written some great tools for learning to pay attention to every task, big or little.  A couple of his books are Pray All Ways and Secular Sanctity. 

Whether a person has a spiritual understanding of reality or not, being present with each task while doing it provides an opportunity to recognize the importance, value, meaning, purpose of even the simplest of activities.  It is calming and satisfying to do one thing at a time and do it well, or do it with intentionality. 

When I listen to music, I usually do not use it as accompaniment for something else.  I listen to it.  The music sometimes becomes very powerful in touching me deeply when it could not if I was doing something else at the same time.  When I wash Mary Ann’s hair, it gets my full attention.  When I make the beds, the doing of it creates a feeling of order to my day.  Feeding the birds provides a meaningful intersection with a world outstide the walls of our house. 

Being present with whatever we are doing does not demand searching for some sort of deep meaning.  I suspect in the world of sports it is sort of like being in the game.  

The speed with which life comes hardly seems to allow the possibility of doing one thing at a time, being fully engaged in a single task.  I think it is fair to ask the question, does multitasking actually get more done, or does it just get less done on each of more things?  How much safer would the roads be if drivers did one thing, drive the car.  How many fewer errors in operating rooms would there be if the doctors, nurses, technicians all gave exclusive attention to what they are there to do.   

Rather than treating the simple daily tasks as throw-aways of little value, engage each one fully, experiencing every dimension of it, soaking in the sounds and smells and sights and textures and maybe even tastes.  Rather than measuring its importance by some external standard, allow its inherrant value to emerge, from the inside of the task. 

Do each task as if it is important.  It will become so, and with it meaning and purpose and value will be added to each day.  Caregivers’ lives are filled with mundane tasks, mundane, but important. 

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