By Dr. Sarah Bridges, Ph.D.
In the California commune where I grew up, Saturday was “work day”. I dreaded the start—standing outside our community center at 8:00 A.M. with our misty breath and frozen fingers. Normal kids watched cartoons or slept late, and probably never shoveled manure at the crack of dawn. But we were not normal kids.
Standing in the cold, I commented about this repeatedly for dramatic effect. The adults huddled in a circle, smiling, and one member read from a list of chores. It was never the same person since the adults were humanistic psychologists and frowned on being power hungry. They didn’t have a leader. We chose what we did by raising our hands when the duties were called. We kids picked for ourselves.
I didn’t want the chicken coop. That’s what I thought when I heard it listed. I also planned to hate the morning. But by the end of the first hour, different ideas filled my head and I was happy with my grimy hands and sweaty back. I was filthy since I chose to work in the barn, shoveling manure that we used in the organic garden. I picked this job since Nipper lived there. He lolled in the dust watching me strain my back. He was a quarter horse with golden fur and giant nostrils, and my mother said he thought he was a dog. She had this belief since he followed us around and nudged us to be scratched. He’d have barked if he could—I’m positive.
Halfway through the morning my world view changed. I joked with the grown-ups since the air was warm, and I liked the feel of Nipper’s silky fur as he rubbed his face against my back. After the jobs were done, the sun was up and we met again as a group. The grownups talked a mile a minute since the older people had drunk gallons of coffee and their hearts were beating like crazy. They laughed and Cecily stood holding a bag of carrots. My father gave each family a dozen eggs. We headed to the volleyball court and we picked our teams again. I liked the way the adults chose kids first, even though we missed our shots every time.
The Saturday mornings always went like this—clouded with horror at first, but always satisfying at the end. This pattern is like the way so many things in life turned out to be ever since. The jobby parts of life—the chilly morning dog walks and closet cleaning begin buried in dread and end up feeling good. I make this observation for the millionth time, and with each new start I’ve lost the capacity to remember. I learn the truth all over again.
Now I think of those mornings, I remember them with a pang and wish I could get the time back. The musty barn, my sweaty arms, and the way Nipper’s eyes stared at me from the side of his head—it seems like both seconds ago and a thousand years. I can’t return, but I bring something else forward—the idea that I want to notice and to remember the little parts of each day that are innocuous and beautiful.