Loving the Ordinary

In her 2010 TEDx talk Brene Brown says:

“In this world, somehow, an ordinary life has become synonymous with a meaningless life and so often we are missing what is truly important because we are on the quest for the extraordinary.”

How true! But what is it about the idea of having an ordinary life that makes us recoil? Even the word ordinary and its synonyms – dull, commonplace, humdrum, routine, unexciting – they all have an unpleasant ring to them.

And yet, when I have lived in other countries, it was the small, ordinary things I really missed – outings to the public library, radio documentaries, birdsong in the early morning, and my cozy blanket. These ordinary things become precious when we are apart from them, or when they pass. Parents learn this quickly when their little ones move on from a developmental stage and you suddenly miss dressing them or carrying them in the carrier against your chest or spoon feeding them. These are all ordinary parts of everyday life and yet they are precious and we are infinitely richer for them.

Just on this day, writing about loving the ordinary, I can think of so many things I would have missed if I had not been thinking this way. I would have missed:

the joy of holding my daughter’s hand

the pleasure of walking her to school

the morning sun on my face

the wide mouthed mug I love to drink my coffee in

the cat’s soft purring

the pleasure of a relaxed, warm shower

the wool socks that keep my feet dry even when they are wet

the joy of seeing a friend when you did not expect to see them today, much less this week

And that was just my morning!

I’m not sure that these things are ordinary! They seems precious to me. Surely there is a paradox here for there is something so sweet in those moments, almost timeless, almost divine. The beloved Mary Oliver gives voice to this paradox of the exquisite in the ordinary in a great many of her poems. Reading her work, I feel like she is calling me to wake up and pay attention to the miraculous, ordinary life that is all around me. This one spoke to me today:

 

The Sun

Have you ever seen
anything
in your life
more wonderful

than the way the sun,
every evening,
relaxed and easy,
floats toward the horizon

and into the clouds or the hills,
or the rumpled sea,
and is gone–
and how it slides again

out of the blackness,
every morning,
on the other side of the world,
like a red flower

streaming upward on its heavenly oils,
say, on a morning in early summer,
at its perfect imperial distance–
and have you ever felt for anything
such wild love–
do you think there is anywhere, in any language,
a word billowing enough
for the pleasure

that fills you,
as the sun
reaches out,
as it warms you

as you stand there,
empty-handed–
or have you too
turned from this world–

or have you too
gone crazy
for power,
for things?