Putting One Foot in Front of the Other

Here’s the next post in my “Art as Therapy” series . . .
Myth #3:  Ordinary work is merely a drudge. I want to be on television!

Confession: I was on television in Germany a few weeks ago. But that really wasn’t the point. It is what got me over there, but the real purpose was to visit the roots of Paul’s mother’s family. If you missed that post, it’s called “Looking for Roots,” from June 3rd. Meanwhile, welcome to the third in a series of posts from the show, “Art as Therapy,” written and conceived of by John Armstrong and Alain de Botton, for the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

As a child, I loved to milk the one, hand-milked cow in my grandfather’s barn. When I saw this Vermeer in person, I could practically smell the sweet liquid, as if I had just squirted it into the pail. Of course, I didn’t have to milk everyday, so I’m standing on thin ice – or ice-cream, if you will. But one of my mother’s most important lessons was to teach me the value of the ordinary.

300px-johannes_vermeer_-_de_melkmeid                    Vermeer, “The Milkmaid”

“It can be hard to see beauty and be interested in the things we have to do every day in the environments in which we live. We have jobs to go to, bills to pay, homes to clean and keep running, and we deeply resent the demands they make on us. They seem to be pulling us away from our real ambitions, getting in the way of a better life.

[Kitchen work] itself could easily have been resented. It is an embodiment of what could, in unfavorable circumstances, be seen as boring, banal, repetitive – even unsexy. But the picture moves us because we recognize the truth of its message. If only we, like [Vermeer], knew how to recognize the value of ordinary routine, many of our burdens would be lifted. It gives voice to the right attitude: the big themes of life – the search for prosperity, happiness, good relationships – are always grounded in the way we approach the little things.”

Every morning I make myself a cup of tea, and I often make dinner at the end the day.  I like polishing my shoes, and I find satisfaction in sewing on a button. My husband might raise an eyebrow to this last statement because I don’t do either very often. There are always so many other competing tasks. But when I do get down to polishing or sewing I take great satisfaction in doing an ordinary job. It’s a way of balancing the occasional television show or meetings with mayors. Without the ordinary, the extraordinary would uproot my tether from the ground.

In what ways do you honor the ordinary in your life?
What do you aspire to?

This entry was posted in Eileen's Armchair and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Putting One Foot in Front of the Other

  1. joaneee says:


    If truth be told — and it is rarely told out loud — there is not a household task that lifts me to the skies. Though so many adore cooking and have overwhelmed me with the results, it is one of the many things that most of us do so often that it is not thought of (well, MUCH!) as it is part of life.
    I DO enjoy living in a beautiful home . . . so if this is “the ordinary”, I enjoy the result – as does my family. It may be “ordinary” but somehow, doing things well in daily life at home noticably “lifts” our spirits in the process. When each of us has learned early – very early – that their “job” or addition to making our lives wonderful in the small ways that really are what life is all about — and children are praised and thanked for their part of it (which is not done often and I find important to hear), we find we have joined together as a whole. “Glorious” is my thought when the sun is setting and, if we think about it, it is the small things done alone or together that have made life extraordinary.

    I think – or perhaps, I HOPE – that each of us thinks we have been blessed. In honesty, our good life is based on LOVE, and working together on the smallest tasks brings love and its memories a “forever” piece of our hearts.

    My aspirations? They remain as they have always been: to open up the whole wide world for the children and their children, allowing them to see beauty, meet people extraordinary or what might be considered “ordinary” — but then, they will see that – in truth – no one is “ordinary”. Everyone has something to give and should be given like respect. As far as aspirations go, they reach to the sky . . . and there is joy in the fact that newfound friends, extraordinary places, so different than our own world beckon. My parting words though: after all you have done in life, if you have set the “ordinary” in life to be wonderful early on, you will find that there is no place like home — for what we need most is love . . and hopefully, you will find a plethora of it right on your doorstep.

    To have that is all my dreams come true.


  2. Elaine Naddaff says:

    Hi Eileen, You are a wonderful writer. This morning I received a newsletter from The Poetry Foundation and read a few of the poems, mostly written by women poets years and years
    ago. What is so interesting about this exercise of reading the poems (aloud) is that each poet
    speaks about the ordinary in life. We, the readers, recognize the “subtext” because it repeats and repeats and repeats the themes of observation. I, neither embrace, not shun the ordinary chores and tasks of daily life.

    I laugh, if I hold my back up with an embrace, after stirring soup, bending over to pick herbs, lifting the large mattress to put on a fitted lavender scented sheet! I exercise with every chore I assume– knees up, leg stretched, arms encircled— breathe breathe breathe, I repeat to myself. I, even, sang a song, as I polished my son’s black shoes for his summer job, as a bar tender, at a high style elite country club in the area! The ordinary evolves and becomes more efficient in time.

    What do I aspire to in life? COMFORT, KINDNESS, APPRECIATION of all kinds, CARE and

    Thanks for sharing the notes on the Vermeer paintings. Art is so enriching!
    I milked a cow, once upon a time and I received a diamond studded watch for it–for real!!!!

  3. cynthia mackay says:

    So true.
    All the ancient cultures know, but our own culture has forgotten, that life itself is a religious cermony

Comments are closed.