Celebrating the Mundane: Lessons I Learned from My Father
My father, Howard Kleinberg, passed away at the age of ninety-five on December 9, 2020. His death at the time came unexpectedly and happened quickly. He did not suffer or require extensive medical intervention, and for that I will forever be grateful.
Due to strict Covid-19 protocols in place at the time of his passing, my father and mother were both confined to their apartment in the retirement residence in which they lived. Family and friends were unable to visit in person, and as a result, I was not able to physically see my father for many weeks prior to his passing. While the barriers of physical contact, as well as all the other restrictions were challenging for me and the rest of our family, they did not diminish my father’s capacity to remain the happy person that he was. My father was thrilled that he was able to speak to all of us family members or see us on a Zoom or video call. He appeared content and was always engaging us in a positive way. He found a way to make the barriers invisible and did not let them bother him.
After barely surviving the horrors of the Holocaust, my father chose to live his life to the fullest, enjoying every moment and occasion wherever and whenever he could. He would jump at the opportunity to go to a wedding, a party or any social gathering near or far. Most of us look forward to milestones in life like a birthday, anniversary or the marriage of a loved one or close friend. My father celebrated all of these, but he also celebrated the more routine moments of life as well. He found purpose and joy in the simplest things that many of us rarely pay attention to. Since he passed away, I have gained a greater appreciation for this incredible quality of celebrating the mundane that my father perfected over his lifetime. It’s a timely lesson I continue to work on and recognize as a key to navigating life’s challenges. Especially now during the pandemic, it’s a lesson I think we can all apply in our lives.
In later years, my father gave up driving and didn’t hesitate to call on any of his grandchildren to drive him on errands. One day, my father called my son-in-law, Dave, to be his chauffeur. The stops that day included the bank and some stores that my father wanted to visit. Dave described how at each stop my father greeted the bank teller or storekeeper with profound respect and charm. He made each visit a happy moment for himself and the people who were servicing him. Irrespective of gender, skin colour or age, my father had a magical way of connecting with people and making the encounter feel so special. For most people these would have been ordinary outings. For my father it was a celebration of life; an opportunity to inject purpose and value into everything that he did. My father did not simply celebrate mundane moments, he elevated them. He always managed to draw out the meaning and beauty of day-to-day life, which is why I believe so many people were magnetically drawn to him.
Since March 2020 we have been required to give up on a lot of things that we enjoy in life. Our plans have been altered or cancelled. Celebrations of life have become drastically reduced or put off indefinitely into the future. The passing of loved ones has become a private event with very few people allowed to share the physical space and mourn together. People have worked from home without the important physical presence of co-workers. What we once took for granted in terms of personal and professional freedom has now become something that we value more. We are thinking twice about where we go, how many people will be there and how we will protect ourselves. Currently, the Omicron variant has once again reminded us that we are not entirely in control of our lives. Pre-pandemic, many of us were too busy to pay attention to trivial matters or simple encounters with our neighbour, a store clerk or a stranger walking by on the street. Yet, as human beings we have a constant craving to be with other people. It’s a basic human need. After almost two years of dislocation in our lives we now know that we cannot take these opportunities for granted. We have to seize the moment to engage the people we meet on a daily basis regardless of the circumstances. We can make these encounters become more meaningful and have more value. Like my father, we too can uplift the ordinary to the extraordinary, even in the simplest things that we do.
My father’s approach to life reminds me of the many stories written about people searching for treasure, and how often the lesson learned from these stories is that it’s not so much the treasure but the journey getting there that enriches people’s lives. My father found joy in the journey, and up until March 2020 many of us were so focused on the end-goal, that we didn’t have time to notice the journey. The pandemic has taught us that the simple encounters along life’s pathways not only can but do give us a sense of purpose and accomplishment, and often make life more interesting and enjoyable. My father’s life journey was forever scarred by what happened to him in his past, and he lost so much. But he wasn’t a bitter person, far from it, and the difficulties he experienced in his early years never stopped him from developing a glass-half-full kind of attitude. One where he cherished every moment, allowing him to build a truly meaningful life for himself, his family and all those who loved him. With his cheerful outlook and ever-present smile, he lit up every room that he entered, and transformed every encounter he experienced . My father’s lesson to all of us is that even in the basic moments of life we can create maximum feelings of joy and celebration. It’s a beautiful message of reveling in life’s daily humdrum of routine and enriching our lives in the process.