We live in culture that tells us over and over again that to be ordinary is to be meaningless.
I would rather have 30 minutes of wonderful, than a lifetime of nothing special. ~Steel Magnolias
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fed a steady diet of movies, songs and books telling me extraordinary achievement was the only way to matter.
Yeah it’s overwhelming, but what else can we do?
Get jobs in offices and wake up for the morning commute? ~Time to Pretend, MGMT
We’ve all heard the amazing story of Diana Nyad’s record-breaking swim from Cuba to Florida. The idea that she’s being questioned about wearing a sting suit and if it really “counts” at this point is genuinely comical to me. Most days I don’t want to drive 110 miles, much less swim it…in the ocean…where there are jelly fish and sharks.
There is a steady stream of stories like hers: someone climbs Mt. Everest or wins a Pulitzer or wrestles a bear. Lots of other people die trying. The need to stand out for something, anything, is sold over and over again.
“Go big or go home,” is the slogan of our lives… as if “home” were the worst of all possible outcomes.
This weekend, I heard the story of a woman who hadn’t seen or heard from her mother since she was a toddler. Her mother disappeared more than 25 years ago and had no contact with friends or relatives since. She was presumed dead.
She went to the state Attorney General’s Missing Person Day. She was hoping a DNA swab might match an unclaimed body somewhere. What she found was that her mother was very much alive, working and living in another state, as she seems to have been for the entirety of the time she’s been “missing.”
Apparently, this mother just up and left her life more than two decades ago, and never looked back. I know that’s not the complete story. It’s likely much more complicated than that. But it’s also, on some level, just that simple.
Then there is the sickening series by Reuters on the Underground Market for Adopted Children. Children from soured adoptions (mostly international) are being “re-homed” (a nice euphemism for thrown away) with no oversight or regard for where they go. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out child predators are exploiting this underground network.
It seems to me “home” is what all these people are trying to find, if you define home a place to be really, truly seen and loved, not despite, but because of the sight of you.
I live an ordinary life by most standards. I’ve had some successes, but lots more failures. I struggle like a lot of people to do meaningful work. Some days that happens. Others it doesn’t. I’m trying very hard to string together a series of days, months and years that will add up to something worth having spent my one and only life doing.
I am coming to realize that “ordinary” is not meaningless. In fact, ordinary is probably the most meaningful life there is. It’s actually astoundingly hard to be ordinary, to keep life between the ditches.
It’s unbelievably difficult to moderate the highs and lows that are part of the human condition. The challenge is not ascend to great heights, but to get up every day and grind out a life where I truly see others and let myself be seen.
I think the reason people rail against the ordinary is because that’s where the truly brave live. It takes real courage to believe you are enough, just as you are. It requires personal fortitude to know you are worthy simply because you are a child of God.
Ordinary is not dull. It is full of laughter and love and grace. Most importantly, it does not require the approval of others. Ordinary is contentment and peace. Ordinary is worth fighting for. It is also a totally backwards way to define success from anything I’ve ever believed.
Ordinary also covers a lot of ground. Let me clear, home not necessarily a marriage, career and 2.4 children. That’s conventional, which is not always the same thing. What I’m referring to is building a tribe, in whatever way that fits.
If the Universe or God or fates call you to be the first person to walk on Mars, I will applaud your professional achievement. But I will be much more interested in your success at building a home, a truly ordinary life.