I volunteer at the library several times a month.
It’s one of my favorite parts of my week, something I look forward to along with Thursday yin yoga and Monday date days.
There’s something in the routine, in the things you can count on to bring you joy.
Last week my regular supervisor was out of town and so I was given the task of shelf reading. Shelf reading, for those of you who don’t know, is going through the books and making sure everything is in alphabetical order. Certain sections, like the children’s section, tend to get out of place and so periodically someone goes in and organizes them.
The woman who assigned me the task told me that she can only shelf read for about a half hour before she needs a break.
I nodded and started on the YA FICTION As.
I went through books I had read and books I wanted to read. I pulled titles off the shelf every once in awhile to glance through the pages. I noticed the pretty covers, the ones that seemed like me, the ones I would never read.
A half hour passed quickly.
The other task they had for me couldn’t be completed that day and so I went back to my shelf and back to alphabetizing.
The books were mainly in place, I moved probably less than 10, but I dutifully went through every author and then every author’s set of works.
FA, FE, FL
An hour hit.
I was losing steam.
I needed a break, I needed to not be squatting, pulling my dress down over my knees to reach the lower shelves. I was fading. Fast.
I got a drink of water and remembered something Elizabeth Gilbert said in her podcast. She talked abot the joy of peeling potatoes, the meditation in the mundane. How when she lived in India she scrubbed floors and what that can mean for your psche. When you get to a place where you find holiness in the scrubbing.
I’ve never before found joy in peeling the metaphorical potatoes. Mundane tasks and jobs and lives drive me up a wall and my active mind soon climbs out of its playpen and into the dark, scary world.
But that day I decided to try it.
I was going to be alphabetizing for the next hour no matter what I did, so I could try to make it holy. I could try to make it joyful.
Back to the shelves I went.
HA, HE, HI
The Clique series, why hadn’t I read it?
Shannon Hale. Oh gosh I met her and loved her.
She lives in my hometown, you know.
My body started to calm. Setting those limits, knowing you have to face a task somehow makes it more manageable. It’s the unknown, the expectation that you could finish any moment that makes it harder.
GA, GE, GR
GR – A, GR – E, GR – I
When I finished my time I marked my progress on a sheet of paper. People commented on how much shelf reading I did, practically the entire YA section.
“It wasn’t a big deal,” I said.
And it wasn’t.
I’m reading a YA book right now that subscribes to the YA book mentality that in order to really live and seize life, one must ditch out on responsibilities, find the craziest adventures and do them this very minute, live in an unrestrained way.
And I get this, on some level.
It’s a juvenile way of thinking. We have to have jobs. There’s the practicality aspect.
But I get this.
One of the reasons I love Rob is that he would drop everything and drive three hours to get a really good piece of pizza with me just because. Just because it was really good.
I tried to explain this concept to a guy I once dated, the drop everything for a pizza thing, but he wasn’t a romantic. He didn’t understand it. “There’s pizza here,” he said.
So I do get this.
But then I also think this mentality misses the point. So often in life we are stuck shelf reading, peeling the potatoes, doing mundane work. If we can make that work holy and worthwhile and joyful-
That is what it means to live life the fullest.
Sure, backyard rollercoasters and skipping AP Physics and jumping into lakes at midnight is fun.
But it’s easy to find the joy there.
It’s much harder to find the holiness in peeling potatoes.