or, Embrace the Everyday
Chop Wood, Carry Water is taken from a Zen saying: Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.
Yes, I read the classic book decades ago when my life had fallen apart pretty completely, and when I dismantled it again recently, similar principles applied. After processing archival collections, sorting sewer bills and love letters– toiling in the salt mines of the mundane–I came to appreciate Chop Wood, Carry Water even more. The world isn’t really binary, but it can feel that way.
We look up out of the trench of daily life and think we see giant, heroic figures doing great things, and we feel jealous. We want to feel special. Some of us want to feel pretty, or handsome, or important.
Some of us want to chop wood, carry water.
The way to make living history more interesting and more relevant is to go deep into the everyday. I don’t mean spinning– unless you tell me why you’re spinning, and I hope it’s part of Boston’s failed “We’ll make it all ourselves!” Little-Red-Hen experiment of the late 1760s–I mean living. Everyday things.
Dishes, laundry, three meals, sweeping, making up beds, mending, chucking the cat out the window, checking on dinner, chucking the cat out the window again. That’s the background against which all of the Great Men and Remembered Ladies stride and saunter. Us. You and me. Waking up with frowzy hair, blinking in the pale light of dawn. That’s the world the Great Men woke up in. That’s the world they occupied most of the time.
When we recreate Great Moments, we’re only replaying the highlight reel. Without context, those moments have less meaning. You’ve heard this sentiment before.
Chop wood, carry water. Embrace the everyday, bring everyone back into history.