“Earth’s the right place for love.” -Robert Frost, “Birches”
“Isn’t this world enough?
Just this world? Just this beautiful, complex,
Wonderfully unfathomable, natural world?” -Tim Minchin, “Storm”
Let’s start with three words: pedestrian, mundane, and last week’s trivial.
According to the OED, to trivialize is to “render commonplace or trifling.” “Trivial” means “common, ordinary, everyday, familiar.” Google defines trivial as “of little value or importance,” pedestrian as “lacking inspiration or excitement; dull,” and mundane as “lacking interest or excitement; dull.” (A professor once told me that there are no synonyms in any language–two similar words always have different nuances, different dancing connotations, different feelings. Of course, for quick understanding, it’s nice to have easy, familiar definitions–is that why Google ties “pedestrian” and “mundane” so close together? Since starting this, I’ve gotten on a plane, gotten off a plane, and sat down in Houston, so I can’t check my OED anymore. Maybe I should make it my carry on: fit them with leather handles. They wouldn’t be very useful all the time, but they would be very useful sometimes, and I’d feel like a wizard).
Pedestrian, mundane, trivial: uninteresting, uninspired, trifling. Those three are like washing your day-old dishes after work. Dull. I usually leave my dishes in the sink for a while, as though I didn’t want to do them. But whenever I actually stand up and walk over and start washing them, I rather like it. I like the daily, mundane practice of taking care of little things. Is that just me?
These three are words for the everyday, and because they’re everyday, we’ve decided they’re cheap. I say they’re not. “Trivial” comes from trivialis, also “common,” but literally tri- (“three”) via (“road”), so “place where three roads meet.” A crossroads. A place we walk every day, a common place, and also a place where, day by day, we decide where we look, who we are, and what we spend our energy reaching toward. Mundane comes from mundanas, belonging to the world “as distinct from the church” notes etymonline.com, and once also meant “pure, clean; noble, generous.” Because our world is those things, even if it isn’t only those things. The “ped” in “pedestrian” means foot, so a pedestrian walks (just as an equestrian rides), and when I walk I find it a fine thing to do. These three Latin-born day-laborers are fine, thoughtful, and strong, but we’ve shoved them off into the poorer alleys in the city of our speech.
People say that “familiarity breeds contempt,” but I don’t think it needs to. The commonplace is only boring when we don’t really look at it. My house’s backyard looks into a park where coyotes run and the trees reach fingers to the wind, but I almost never go out to enjoy that. I could, sitting on a Saturday, grading the endless papers; but I don’t. And then, last Saturday, I had someone over to the house, and we did. Together we walked those seven steps (pedestrians that we were) and looked at the mundane trees and the sky. The trivial view, that I could see every day. This place, where the three roads of past, present, and future (or thought, feeling, and perception; or you, me, and all the rest of the world), is enough for me. I’m glad to be here with you. It’s late, and I’m tired; it’s been two flights since I started writing this, and my back’s a little unhappy, and I’d like a shower, and this place, just here, is a good place to be. I find reverence. I find love. I find food to eat and work to do and laughter to share, and I find it all on a strange, bewildering, intriguing world dirty enough to have earth for roots to reach into.
Thank you all for sharing this place with me.