Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Ordinariness Of Life

I live in a very real world of working things, working machines that are important in procuring something of a livelihood. Old trucks and a home made trailer. Tools. Sawing machines. Mowing machines. Tilling machines. Belts. Pulleys. Bearings. Filters. Pruners. Shovels. Rakes. Forks. Wrenches.

When these machines are working like they are designed to work, life moves along with a nice flow to it. Just turn the key and go. Do a little job and come home. Most days that’s the way it goes. Some days things get turned upside down. Powered machines are wonderful tools when they work right. The problem with these tools is that they don’t always work right and it’s expensive when you take them to the shop. I try to do as much of my repair work as I can.

Monday morning began as a normal day. I knew where I was going and what I had to do. I loaded the power washer and some hoses on the trailer. I started the diesel engine and let it warm up a bit. It died. Not normal behavior for the ’83 Chevy. It was a little contrary to get started again. It started but was running rough as I made my way out the lane, too rough for me to consider taking it down the road, so I turned around and parked it next to the shed where I could tinker on it.

Older diesel engines, before they started putting computers on them, are pretty basic combustion engines. Fuel is injected into the cylinders, air is sucked in through the intake. The more fuel you give them the more air they draw and the faster they go. Starve them for fuel and you don’t go anywhere.

It hadn’t been that long ago that I had changed them out but I guessed that the fuel filters were dirty. It was my best guess anyway.

There are parts houses closer to home but I prefer to do business with Jack. He’s quite an animated fella. To say that he’s a little rough around the edges is a major understatement. He’s really rough. The men he employs in his shop are really rough. They live in the realm of Harley’s and hotrods. Your ears had best not be too sensitive or your skin too thin.

I only remember once that he didn’t have in stock what I needed to keep my old trucks going. It was at the store before he opened the next morning. With the price paid for parts you always get a generous discourse on economics, politics, or whatever else happens to be on Jack’s mind at the time, like it or not, agree with it or not.

It took only about a half hour to change the filters once I got home. The truck started, took me to the job and back, but there was something about it that wasn’t up to snuff. Tuesday morning I got ready to head out. The truck started quite easily, ran just about 30 seconds, then slowly shut down. It was like it was starved for fuel.

I unscrewed the primary fuel filter and poured its contents into a glass quart jar, something that I should have done the day before but didn’t. Beads of water covered the bottom of the jar, more than I could just justify to condensation. A slug of water at my last fill up? I can’t think of any other way. The truck had been running fine.

Another trip to the parts house. Another round of filters and this time some tank treatment to turn H2O into its composing parts. I dosed the tank with the treatment then bounced on the bumper for a while to mix the contents with the fuel and water. Another half hour to change out the filters. I let the truck set a while longer while I ate some lunch.

I had to crank the motor over for a full 30 seconds before it gave some indication that it wanted to start and at least another 15 before it got that diesel starting and running sound to it. Then it was up and going, running rough, but up and going. I drove it around a while, topped off the tank with fresh fuel, drove it around some more, then hooked up the trailer and hauled a load of pine bark mulch to a customer.

So what all this got to do with Oblation, with living as an Oblate of St. Benedict? Why bother to recount the water in the tank and ruined filters bit? It is, for me, a pointed object lesson in life.

It’s easy, I think, to have some mental impression or conception that spirituality is something designed to deliver us from the ordinariness of life. It’s easy to have some mental impression that leads us to think we are supposed to order our lives exactly as our cloistered brothers live. It’s also easy to imagine life as something other than it is and to manipulate time and materials in order to secure something imaginary.

I’ve tried to escape the ordinariness of life only to find myself surrounded by more of it. I’ve tried to order my days around a strict monastic schedule only to fail over and over at living up to such a strict standard. I’ve tried to imagine my way out of life as it is only to have life as it is manifest itself in greater degrees.

I cannot escape the ordinariness of life. I no longer try to. I do, in fact, rather look for ways to make life even simpler and I don’t have to look far. The ways have a way of finding me. All I have to do is accept them and embrace them.

The ordinariness of life, the circumstances and dilemmas and the bumps and the ruts, are as much a part of Oblate life for me as are the platitudes and the vistas and the joys and the pleasures. Perhaps they form an even greater part, one designed to keep me in touch with the reality that I am little more than a stranger and foreigner passing through a beautiful yet barren and fading landscape.