A grandpa and his grand-daughter are walking to school. He is here for a few weeks and it’s a morning ritual. She runs ahead to pick up a crimson sweet gum leaf and comes back to deposit it in his hand. He is the explorer’s bank, the archive. He appreciates with interest. She is walking her grandpa through her everyday life of curiosity. It’s a short walk repeated. They are farming memories. They are cultivating ordinary time.
A common theme in many conversations I have had recently is some form of the question: “How do you keep up those special long-term relationships in today’s mobile and busy world?” I have this theory that what makes many of my long-term relationships special is the “accumulation of ordinary time.” Maybe it’s all the time you spent walking to and from school with someone you grew up with, or all those lunches with a friend where you decompressed from the craziness of your jobs, or maybe it was all those discussions you continue to have with someone who is geographically distant, but intellectually and emotionally present. Maybe it’s that weekly get together to just “hang out” with friends or family.
I have borrowed and adapted the concept of ordinary time from the ecclesiastical calendar in which ordinary time is the time between the “special events.” I think there is something deeply “spiritual” about ordinary time. There is something stabilizing about accumulating ordinary time with someone. It acts as a kind of ballast as the relationship braves the rough weather of many crossings.
Shared ordinary time is powerful. It can extend even beyond a lifetime. One of my friends described to me how she accumulated ordinary time with her grandmother while they washed dishes together. She can still connect with that time and place even now.
Those who cultivate ordinary time seem to incorporate new technology into the process, sometimes quite creatively. A friend explained to me recently that he has been phoning his brother half way around the world every Sunday for years, but recently discovered to his surprise another way to cultivate ordinary time.
He and his grown children have recreated the family ritual of sitting together to watch the Sunday football game in the living room even though they now live in different cities. They gather virtually for the game and text each other while they watch in their own homes. There is the same banter and commentary they had when they lived under the same roof. The game, he notes, is just a great excuse to easily schedule and spend ordinary time together.
Teague, who includes online gaming among his many research interests, recently described to me how he has observed that many online gamers are people who are in places where they have no natural neighborhood – for example, people on active duty in the military and kids with unstable living situations. He is amazed how, amid the chatter of an online game, someone will slip in an offer of emotional support about some offline problem to a fellow cyber-citizen. Games can be a comfortable place to cultivate ordinary time whether in person or online.
I find that it refreshes a relationship to spend ordinary time with friends or family members in their “natural habitat.” Sometimes that’s someone’s home, sometimes a favorite place to visit. When in-person face-to-face is not possible, “tea and Skype” can still provide a great opportunity to cultivate ordinary time. All you need is half an hour and no particular agenda.
I am trying to be more conscious of the cultivation of ordinary time, doing it with intention and savoring it more. What are your strategies for cultivating ordinary time to care for and revitalize your special relationships?