I am reading a great book right now. It's called I Thought It Was Just Me by Brene Brown and while the book has contained many thought-provoking ideas, today a passage made me actually stop reading to think for a moment about it. Here it is:
In our culture, the fear and shame of being ordinary is very real. In fact, many of the older women I interviewed spoke about looking back on their lives and grieving for the extraordinary things that would never come to pass. We seem to measure the value of people's contributions (and sometimes their entire lives) by their level of public recognition. In other words, worth is measured by fame and fortune.
Our culture is quick to dismiss quiet, ordinary, hardworking men and women. In many instances, we equate ordinary with boring or, even more dangerous, ordinary has become synonymous with meaningless.
I was sitting at the pool while reading this, having conquered - or at least tamed - my fear of joining the local YMCA for the summer. But these words brought me up short because of a line of thinking I had explored last weekend as a result of reading this book. Brown argues that a large part of our shame comes from the disconnect between how we want to be perceived and how we are perceived. She encourages readers to write down how they do and don't want to be perceived in several specific areas. As I did this, I considered writing down that I didn't want to be seen as average or ordinary. I don't think I actually included this word, but the fact that it was on the tip of my tongue (or pen) is telling.
Why don't I want to be ordinary? Do I really believe I am of uncommon quality, rank or ability? I'm frankly not someone who enjoys being noticed a great deal of the time. I remember telling my daughter B how I really thought for years (decades, more truthfully) that it was wrong of me to want anyone to pay attention to me. (Her reply? "Well, that's pretty much the exact opposite of how I think.") If I have mixed feelings about being noticed, why would I want to be something other than ordinary?
Perhaps the key to my resistance to being ordinary is Brene Brown's suggestion that ordinary equates with boring. I've always harbored a fear that I am a bit on the boring side. I'm passionate about some things, but my interests tend to be narrowly defined and deeply felt, not broad and sweeping. I'm not particularly funny because I'm not quick on my feet. Part of me has always wondered exactly why someone would want to be friends with me - though I've never had the courage to actually ask. So if I fear being boring, and ordinary registers in my brain as boring, I may have found the source of my resistance.
The fact remains that much of my life is very ordinary. At least as ordinary as life with three extraordinary daughters can be. Yet I have no problem seeing the beauty in the ordinary. I think there's great delight, fulfillment and lessons in a day that is packed with ordinary tasks like grocery shopping, swim lessons and pool time. Everyday, ordinary life is something I treasure - because it goes by so very fast.
Today at the pool, we ran into someone who was in B's kindergarten class. As she and her dad walked past, I recognized the dad first and thought, "Is that S? Would she really be that old?" But as I thought back and realized she was B's age, it was definitely the same girl - she'd just been frozen in my mind at age 5. The dad and I chatted and he talked about how he is about to have a third daughter - who will be 20 years younger than one sister and 10 years younger than the other. He said he remembers daughter #1 at age ten, even though she just completed her freshman year of college. Ordinary life goes by so quickly. I don't want to wish it away by longing for something more extraordinary.
Yet how much of the ordinary do we really remember? Perhaps there are some cumulative memories that stick for their sheer volume - things like hot chocolate made with real milk or pancakes on snow days. Mostly, I think the strongest memories are the extraordinary ones, but those memories might be less influential on who we are than the smaller, more common events that slipped through our conscious memories.
I think the key to marrying the ordinary and extraordinary in family life lies in ritual. The ordinary events best-remembered are those that are a part of the fabric of your family's liturgy. Pancakes on snow days? They'll be remembered precisely because we don't have pancakes three days weekly. Or maybe they won't be remembered at all. But I do think the things that we treat as sacred, as special, as ordinary but seen through a lens of reverence - those are the things that sink into the hearts of our children.
I'm ok with living an ordinary life. I'm less ok with being an ordinary person. So I think I'll focus on finding joy in my everyday, ordinary life and do my best to live as someone whose gifts, weaknesses, accomplishments and failures are uniquely, uncommonly my own.