I believe in activities of daily living. As an occupational therapist, ADLs have been part of my lexicon for decades. It seems to me that in our most frightened or vulnerable moments, what we yearn for are the normal day to day activities we take for granted when all is well.
At the end of a long illness, a good day for my dying father was one when he could brush his own teeth, hold his own coffee cup and talk with his grandchildren. After 9/11 it wasn’t the glitz and glamour of New York that we missed. It was the security of knowing we could hop on an airplane to visit a friend in the city, take the subway downtown, or put our children on the school bus without fearing they would not return.
Stories of post-Katrina New Orleans resounded with yearning for the mundane – a washcloth to clean a face, a comforting arm around a shoulder, music or poetry to heal the soul.
When I watch the news from the Middle East, I see people risking their lives to go to the market, or make their way home. Watching the footage of Sudanese refugees, I see mother’s trying to create normal lives for their children in an abnormal environment. After the shootings at Virginia Tech, parents wanted nothing more than to help their children resume those routine student activities that had been displaced by grief or fear.
Almost daily I watch patients who, as illness progresses, struggle with the simple things the rest of us take for granted. They exert tremendous effort to get out of bed in the morning. They strain to dress themselves in anticipation of a visit with a friend. They fight to remember their children’s names or the recipe for that special dish they used to make for the holiday meal.
As a culture, we have been known to scoff at the common, or sneer at the familiar. When all is well and we are engaging in our daily activities, we tell ourselves that there must be more to life than our simple day to day existence. We assure ourselves that the boredom of every day life is not the stuff of our dreams. But engaging in the simple activities of life can give us a purpose and meaning we often take for granted. Activities of daily living challenge our weaknesses and help us win the struggle of survival for another day.
By eagerly participating in the mundane activities of daily life, we tell our enemies – be it disease, ideology, or fear – that we will not forsake the everyday experiences and activities that define us. We are stronger than these enemies. We are active participants in life.
I believe the routine day-to-day activities we so often take for granted give us strength to heal, strength to come together as a family or a culture, and strength to hope. They have the power to show us who we are, or who we wish to become. I believe in the mundane, the everyday, and the ordinary. And I believe that in the face of our fears, fully engaging in the normal activities of daily living can help to make us whole.