Give Us This Day Our Daily Routine

I wonder what the poor folks are having tonight? Episode #13


They say there are people who thrive on chaos, on adrenaline, on thrills. I’m pretty sure I’m not one of those. 

Adrenaline hounds actually pay money to be scared. On purpose! They go to a fair and instead of looking at beautiful animals or prize winning poultry or replacement windows, they go on rides that are designed by sick people to scare the hell out of you. Seriously! They really do that. 

I went up on a Ferris wheel once at a county fair. I can tell you that there’s absolutely no reason to pay people to scare you more than that. I couldn’t even get a refund! 

What is wrong with people? If you want to be scared, just drive to your nearest big city and head down to one of the parts where no one goes by choice. It’s really scary there. Go to an Atlantic beach on a day when the undertow warning signs are up. Or go to South Haven, Michigan when there’s a stiff west wind pushing big waves and take a little walk out on the causeway to the South Haven lighthouse. I’ll hold your valuables and even notify your next of kin. 

Perhaps drive across the Mackinac Bridge on a cloudy day in November when they’re thinking about closing it because of high wind and you keep hearing The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald on the radio all day. 

It isn’t necessary to spend any money at all to be scared. When there’s been freezing rain falling for about an hour, go jetting out of the house wearing your leather-soled shoes onto the sidewalk before suddenly turning right or left or trying to stop. If they have the black ice warnings out, zip over to a friend’s house along that curvy road in your car with the worn tires. 

Another way is to recreate the conditions for a solid bout of food poisoning. For the Fourth of July make up that chicken salad with plenty of hard boiled eggs and cheap mayo and just let it sit in the sun on the picnic table while you take the nine-mile adventure hike through the state forest. Two hours after you’ve finished your meal, your main fear will be that you’re not going to die. That’s always fun. . . if you’re just plain nuts.

For those of us who have better sense,  routine is the only way to go. 

Routine establishes normal

Routine establishes normal. Norm-al. It’s what we compare stuff to. Normal is the way things are supposed to be when we’re not losing our minds. Normal is predictable, expected. We can plan for normal. Normal lets us take a deep breath and take a minute or two to decide what we ought to do next. Normal means there’s time for tea. Normal means we won’t look like Marty Feldman in a hurricane. Normal means we can consult others and look up things in books. Normal gives us time to look for it in the garage or the closet. Normal is the familiar and comforting

Abnormal is the unknown, the sudden. We have to think without contemplating, act without research. Everything depends on the first reaction, which is the only one we have time for. There’s no time to weigh things, to consult others. Guess immediately and get it right, or get wrecked. Who likes that? 

Without routine, without normal, how do we distinguish the scary from the safe?  When everything is without routine, what is abnormal? All things good and bad are random, so identifying danger becomes a guessing game.

Livestock make a good example of the principles at work here. The most important factor in livestock care is knowing what normal looks like. 

All livestock love a routine. They want their needs met the same way at the same time every day. They learn. They remember. They don’t want to be scared, or to live in chaos and danger. They’re affected by your tone of voice, changing weather conditions, heat, cold, humidity levels, running out of feed or water, or if there’s a predator attack. They’ll assemble at the gate or at the door of the milk parlor at the same time of day when they learn the routine. If they don’t show up at the established time or if one stands in the corner with a head down, there’s trouble. The job of the shepherd, cowherd, or swineherd is to watch for predators and check for the out-of-routine. If there’s abnormal behavior, it may be the first warning of sickness, nutritional disorders, or lameness. Sheep will try to hide a problem. It helps to know their routine.


Animals make warning sounds to notify the others. Cattle, horses, and donkeys warn of the danger of predators. Roosters have a distinctive hawk alarm that sends the hens running for cover under bushes or back inside when almost anything flies overhead. Dogs bark and growl. Cats hiss and yowl. Songbirds chatter, shriek, or scold. When you hear it, something isn’t normal. Something has broken the routine.

For introverts, routine becomes a comfort and a friend. The routine calms us, lets us relax, and invites rejuvenation. It makes for good sleep and better work the next day. Routine becomes what many of us enjoy about the day. There is planned productivity and the satisfaction of accomplishment without distractions. 

When there’s a firmly established routine, the first thing to do when going outside in the morning is to scan the horizon or scan the edge of the property, looking for anything that might have upset the calm of the night. Honking horns, cars driving too fast, a door ajar, or dark clouds to the southwest all merit examination for potential to disrupt the routine. 

When concerns can be put aside, then it’s time to get the chores out of the way and proceed to the day’s good labor. Somewhere in the early afternoon there ought to be time to sit and savor a cup of tea, and to ask how the day has been so far. With luck, it has been quiet and routine, just as we hoped.

There’s even music for the routine. J. S. Bach wrote it. He knew about such things. The title is Sheep May Safely Graze, cantata 208.

Dr. Bruce Smith — Bio and Archives

Dr. Bruce Smith (Inkwell, Hearth and Plow) is a retired professor of history and a lifelong observer of politics and world events. He holds degrees from Indiana University and the University of Notre Dame. In addition to writing, he works as a caretaker and handyman. His non-fiction book The War Comes to Plum Street, about daily life in the 1930s and during World War II,  may be ordered from Indiana University Press.

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