Mitchell is not a town of detours. No roads will be closed today. I don’t have to wonder what route I will take to work. There is no traffic report to consult so that I can avoid accidents that are causing congestion on the roads. The only remotely unpredictable factor is the train schedule and even those horned rumblers seem strangely natural these days. I like the usual.
Last week I backed out of my driveway one morning, headed naturally north onto 8th street , waved at neighbor Deb who was out for her standard stroll with her dog, made a routine right onto Main, and then cruised customarily down to the Old Mill Restaurant for a typical once-a-week breakfast meeting. It was the usual.
Darrin and Matthew were arriving as I was and I could see Jim’s car so he had to be inside already. I didn’t see Allen’s car from where I was standing but I knew it must be parked nearby because he is always early. It’s the usual for him. Walking in for breakfast feels familiar. It’s not something I do every day but it still feels ‘everyday’ to me. Nothing much changes behind the door of the Old Mill. The door that smells faintly of maple syrup and whose handle has a little of the feel of bacon. Just right. The usual.
The main room is always full of what appears to be tall-tale tellers habitually hitting the highlights of town talk. They glanced up at the sound of the door to see if someone un-usual might be entering their stories. But our group of friends is a predictable sight and heads quickly turned back to their common coffee cups. These men think aloud that it might be exciting for someone new and unknown to walk through the door but they each are silently much contented by the usual.
We turned left to take our typical table in the back room. We knew where to sit. Everyone knows where to sit. I smiled a good morning to many of the regulars and eased into a chair next to Jim. I had guessed correctly that Allen was there also though it really wasn’t a guess since it’s the norm. Coffee arrived without being ordered. Extra cream was supplied without thought. The sugar passed without words. Standard stirring set in. It’s a beautiful thing this silently orchestrated usual.
The waitress said, ‘The usual, Jim?’ He nodded through a sip of coffee as she looked on to who was next. Darrin said he’d have Jim’s usual for himself also. Now here was a new twist. Someone ordering someone else’s usual. This will have to be much discussed by the tall-tale tellers. Now I must admit that I’m not at the Old Mill often enough to have a usual, which could possibly be considered by some purists to mean that if my life is too hectic to establish a usual then it’s time to slow down. But they may not be right since that kind of thinking among purists is pretty much usual.
Matthew asked for his over-easy eggs to be perched atop his biscuits and gravy. His usual is to let the warm yolks help to color the white gravy. I don’t want that to be my usual but I enjoy it being his. It’s conventionally unconventional of him. But for Matthew, that’s the usual.
Breakfast was still warm on our plates and only half eaten when the waitress came to the table not with a coffee warm up but with a book. She explained that it was left in the restaurant last week and that the book had a Christian theme to it. The staff had just assumed that is was probably Jim’s book. Our table was quiet. In thought. Silenced by this simple compliment towards our friend. For most, this kind of recognition is not the usual.
But it is for Jim. He tends toward living a life that’s easily recognized as the life of a Christian. God is not some back-seat, simple-Sunday kind of acquaintance to Jim. God is the usual. And it was now apparent to the rest of our shame that Jim was the most obvious follower of Jesus at the table. Here again, some purists might argue that the waitress came to him first because he has breakfast in there 8 times a week. And yes, that’s twice on at least one day. But I think it’s because for Jim that God is the usual.
It makes me wonder what the usual is for me. What is the first thing I’m recognized for being? There is no doubt that I have many ‘usuals’ in my life. But which of my usuals are really worthy of being the usual? What about me is comfortably predictable to my friends? What dependable familiar facts of my life bring strength or peace to those who know me? What can people count on with Gary Spear? What about you? What’s the usual for you? Kindness, irritability, patience, hurtfulness, grace?
The tough work is in establishing a usual that’s really useful as the usual. But the purists would say that Mitchell with its lack of detours and congestion is the perfect place to establish a usual. And I must say that I’ve come to agree with them. It’s a pleasing sound to my tired ears to here someone say, “The usual?”
This blog, along with the others in the ‘past writings’ category, are republished from newspaper columns or other publications I’ve written for in the past. They may be a little dated in facts but I think they are still timely for many of us.