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Routine--EMDASH--the trains ran on time

Detroit Lakes Newspapers columnist Lynn Hummel recently published his fourth book, "The Last Word," a collection of some of his favorite columns from the past 40 years.

Benito Mussolini was a brutal, arrogant, not particularly talented, Italian fascist dictator from 1922 to 1945. In 1936, he became a puppet of Adolf Hitler and later jumped Italy into World War II as an Axis power. After the Axis defeat he was shot by his own Italians and hanged by the feet, upside down.

But, during more peaceful times, he was appreciated by the Italians because, under his administration, the trains always ran on time.

The point of the Mussolini story is to emphasize how important routine can be in all of our lives.

This morning at 6 our garbage man came and picked up the garbage. At about 6:15, our paper was delivered. Both right on schedule. No big deal, you may say, but consider the effect of routine in our daily lives.

When school was in session, every morning the school buses picked up the kids at almost the same time and took them safely to school. If kids have to wait outside for the bus to come (in rain, snow, cold, wind or whatever) it's important that the bus is right on time.

But every morning before the bus came, those kids got up, washed behind their ears, got dressed, had breakfast (we hope), brushed their teeth and hustled out to where the bus would stop. Teachers, paraprofessionals, cooks and custodians were standing-by routinely to handle the children when they arrived. Routine — when it works, it can be beautiful. When it doesn't work — confusion, chaos, and frustration.

Some people consider routine a rut, a drag and nothing but boredom in action. If you consider the daily chores for millions of Americans and the rhythm of our lives, routine is the oil that keeps the big machine humming efficiently.

Consider all the moving parts: Truck drivers for overnight deliveries, emergency workers standing-by, nurses and medical personnel, law enforcement, early morning commuters driving to work, store clerks, gas station attendants, factory workers on a schedule, pilots and airline personnel.

Routines can be interrupted by human error, accident, adverse weather, and when they are, the delays can come everywhere and need to be "fixed" by people whose jobs are routinely to correct and resolve interruptions and emergencies—for them, interruptions and emergencies are routine.

Harvey Cushing (1869-1939) knew more about routine than I do, and his life was anything but routine. No, he didn't stand on an assembly line putting toasters in boxes. Cushing was an American neurosurgeon, pioneering in brain surgery. He is known as the Father of Neurosurgery, and discovered what became known as Cushing's Disease. He developed a surgical magnet to extract shrapnel from the heads of wounded soldiers and made other crucial medical inventions. Cushing respected the role of routine in all his brilliant, non-routine work.

He wrote: "Nothing will sustain you more potently than the power to recognize in your humdrum routine, as it perhaps it may be thought, the true poetry of life — the poetry of the commonplace, of the ordinary man, of the plain, toil-worn woman, with their loves and their joys, their sorrows and their griefs."

So, stick with your humdrum routines: keep brushing your teeth and washing behind your ears, keep getting to work and on time, keep doing your routine job and keep the big machine humming. This is the poetry of life — the poetry of the commonplace.