- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 11, 2006

When the alarm sounds, I awaken to a Friday morning like any other. Rolling slowly to my side, I lift my heavy eyelids toward the digital clock that sits on the night table next to my bed: 6:45.

Every morning, it’s the same routine. I hustle out of bed, pack four school lunches, kiss the high schoolers goodbye and then jump in the shower. By 8, I’m ready to drive the younger two children to school. Then it’s home for chores — cleaning the kitchen, starting the laundry, running the vacuum and emptying the trash — all completed before 9, my usual target time to begin work in my home office.

This day, I bury my head deeper into my pillow and pull the covers up to my ears.

Not that I can go back to sleep, of course. Mayhem ensues if mom is the last one up. Rather, I lie in the dark, watching the clock advance the day, minute by reliable minute.

At 7:04, the urge finally strikes me to pull back the blankets. I amble to the kitchen, where it’s lights, coffee, action.

By 7:12, our morning routine is well under way. I’m making turkey sandwiches (one with cheese, three without), careful to pack the right fruit in the right bag (two get bananas, one gets an apple, one gets applesauce, but only if it’s cinnamon-flavored).

I work around my teenage daughters, who always eat standing up while their overloaded backpacks occupy chairs at the kitchen table.

About 7:29, Amy appears on the scene, still wearing the pajama top and gym shorts she had on when I tucked her into bed last night. She’s attempting a stall technique — typical for my 8-year-old.

“Why aren’t you dressed for school?” I ask.

“She claims she lost her voice,” Betsy interjects.

Working hard to hold back a smile, Amy mouths the words: “It’s true. I can’t talk.” Her lips exaggerate their movements to emphasize each silent syllable.

“We don’t have time for your antics. You’re going to make us late,” I say. “You know the routine. Get moving.” I shoo her back upstairs.

“OK, I’ll hurry,” she says in full voice.

No one remarks on her amazing recovery.

At 7:38, Katie and Betsy head out the door. Within 20 minutes, I’m driving the younger two children to school, steering through our neighborhood and into the pale light of another ordinary day.

Most mornings on the way to school, we talk about the hours ahead. “What are your goals for today?” I’ll ask. The answers usually are something like “to get my math done so I don’t have homework” (Amy) or “to make it through science without falling asleep” (Jimmy).

This day, though, the ride to school is unusually quiet — and not because Amy’s vocal cords have resumed their former phony affliction.

Rather, we’re aware of our collective sadness as we drive past our neighbor’s house, where an unusual gathering of cars in the driveway reminds us of their extraordinary heartbreak.

Just yesterday, on what should have been a typical Thursday, they lost a son, just 21, to a relentless and ravaging brain tumor. His short life was not to unfold in the ordinary way.

The sympathy that preoccupies my thoughts stays with me on the round trip to school and throughout my morning chores. Eventually, I sit at my desk to answer e-mail and tackle a project that awaits my attention, but I don’t get much done.

That I’m blessed to focus on such mundane tasks stirs in me waves of tears for my friend, whose duties today will require surpassing strength and faith — the kind of steely resilience no mother wants to discover she can muster.

Instead of being productive, I mostly spend my time in the awkward awareness that an ordinary day truly is a gift from God.

And so the hours pass until at last it’s time to make my way again through the neighborhood to pick up my children from school.

This time, there are even more cars in what seems like an endless line outside my neighbor’s home. It’s no surprise that a family known for kindness and generosity is being cared for so tenderly by friends and relatives.

Amid the vehicles that crowd the driveway, one catches my eye, and I do a double take.

It’s a pizza delivery car.

I don’t know why, but a sight as incongruous as that pizza car parked outside the home of a grieving family fills me with an odd reassurance.

It strikes me as a simple affirmation that in the midst of a day so exceptionally dark as to be surreal, we all must be fed and nurtured in even the most basic, unremarkable ways.

In the aftermath of a loss so confounding, comfort will be found in the common acts of compassion the family is sure to experience in the weeks and months to come.

I don’t know how you could face life’s routine rhythm after your reality changes so profoundly.

I don’t know how my neighbors will do it.

I only know I’m grateful for the poignant reminder to thank the Lord for every precious day — especially the ordinary ones.

Columnist Marybeth Hicks, a wife of 18 years and mother of four children, lives in the Midwest. She uses her column to share her perspective on issues and experiences that shape families nationwide. Visit her Web site (www.marybeth hicks.com) or send e-mail to marybeth.hicks@comcast.net.

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