The Beautiful Ordinariness

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Do not ask your children
to strive for extraordinary lives.
Such striving may seem admirable,
but it is the way of foolishness.
Help them instead to find the wonder
and the marvel of an ordinary life.
Show them the joy of tasting
tomatoes, apples and pears.
Show them how to cry
when pets and people die.
Show them the infinite pleasure
in the touch of a hand.
And make the ordinary come alive for them.
The extraordinary will take care of itself.
William Martin, The Parent’s Tao Te Ching: Ancient Advice for Modern Parents

Last night I had the opportunity to attend the memorial service for a good friend. Leslie was one of those people, the kind that leaves a desperate void in her wake, one that does not need notoriety, but longed for goodness and light in the world. And knew that within this longing resided her work, so she provided this goodness and light for countless people spanning the globe. She was one of the best ones, and our world will now function forever at a loss.

I glanced at her boy throughout the service, remembering my almost twelve-year-old self sitting in the same front, center spot during my own mom’s memorial service in 1984. He seemed so little, yet, back then, I felt so old. I felt the weight of responsibility, this void of my mother’s, now mine to fill in some strange way. The roles of nurturer and laundress and grilled-cheese maker and little-boy-hair-brusher now mine.

There was a disservice done to me when my mother died. My mother was canonized. She was frozen into perfection. While I’m not sure this was my doing or someone else’s, it happened. She was a remarkable mother, a pastor’s wife with four young children. We were loved well and endlessly. And  yes, I know she wasn’t perfect, but it took me awhile to remember or realize she wasn’t, because she was pretty darn close.

And so, when it came my turn to bear children, to stay home (my choice) and raise them, I assumed I was a constant failure. My canonized mother would never do the things I did. Or maybe she did and I couldn’t remember. I know she was tired. I know she gave beyond what she had to give. I know she was loved and honored and treasured by everyone who came to know her, and yet, I could not rise to that level, I could not step over that moving, high bar.

Observing this young man last night, I realized his parents did something really good. They were honest with him. Spoken from the stage was a true story of someone who loved in exquisite ways, but someone who was also exceptionally human and remarkable and beautifully familiar, grounded. And in her beautiful familiarity, she got stuck sometimes. She needed help. She blew it.

We all get stuck and we need a helping hand. We all fail and we all blow it beyond what we ever imagined. We all need boatloads of love and grace from our fellow human travelers. May we not try to uphold some impossible standard for a life and do a disservice to one another. May we seek to share and demonstrate a modicum of honesty and vulnerability, setting aside our need to win, to be better than.

As a Christian, I am bound by the rule of love. And the rule of love sometimes means I put others before myself and other times it means I put myself before others. Sometimes personal healing and health is the priority, seeking freedom from oppression, defending myself against unfair treatment and injustice. And whether I’m learning to love myself or others, I realize love is not a passive endeavor. I am convinced there is a reason loving God and loving others as we love ourselves is our greatest command. One can spend an entire lifetime deciphering what love truly is, as the most confusing, uncertain, non-binary task we undertake. Love is not bound by rules, but love does have ingredients: vulnerability, honesty, empathy, compassion.

When we place another into the elevated position of worthy – this is love. When we seek to understand, when we recognize the creation of God before us, when we respect another’s story, this. This is the work of the Divine. This is the work of honoring our people. Leslie reminded me that to love is to be humble, gentle, and remarkably exceptional in our ordinariness, in our familiarity. And in appreciating the ordinary, the simple, we discover the extraordinary in the minutest of moments. We discover the extraordinary in the most ordinary of people. And each person is transformed, transcendent, exquisite. Each person is the most important person on the planet, in that moment, elevated and holy.

I pray for my friend’s family. I pray for their process as they move through grief and loss and redefining a new path. I pray for myself, for my own work in upholding the rule of love. I pray for all of us as we seek to love those in our homes, our neighborhoods and communities, extending life, goodness, and light to all.

I pray we all seek to live the life of beautiful ordinariness, that seeks to see and know the people who believe and act different, who vote different, who parent different, who love different. May we heap oodles of kindness and compassion so our world may heal the rifts and we may see and know how to freely give so we may freely receive.


2 thoughts on “The Beautiful Ordinariness

  1. Oh, how this post speaks to my spirit. While I was blessed to have my mother for sixty-three years, I grappled with the incredible weight of writing a eulogy that showcased my mother’s life in a real, human, authentic way ( I, too, fight the “perfect parent” syndrome and find the need to step away and be me with all the good, bad, and ugly that goes with it. After all, others are watching. If I only showcase the good, what pressure do I unknowingly place on my children, my students, my friends?

    Excellent post with great information for reflection. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with the world!

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