Women growing older with grace and gusto

How to be ordinary

photo credit: dicktay

What? You want me to be ordinary?

Well yes, in the best sense of the word. There’s a lot of pressure to be whatever the world defines as extraordinary and I think the pursuit of it can lead us away from who we really are.

What does ordinary mean?

So let me explain what I mean by ordinary.

I was very moved yesterday by this article. With the help of her friends and family, it explores the life of an ordinary woman called Shelagh, who died recently at the age of 55.

Here’s what she wasn’t: a celebrity, an eminent scientist or academic, a business leader, a top-100 blogger, a mother, a wife, perfect.

She was someone who made the very most of her giftedness, and her gift was love. She expressed without reservation or censorship her love for her family, friends and colleagues. (And her love for herself. Apparently she took a bath each afternoon, eating oranges and reading in the steam.) And she was no plaster saint. Funny, irreverent, she laughed loudest at herself.

Shelagh was there for everyone, until suddenly without warning she wasn’t. She left a huge hole in the lives of everyone who knew her.

Ordinarily extraordinary

Look, the thing is this: our giftedness is unique to each of us. It doesn’t always explode and shout its way into the world in full Technicolor.

Have you ever really looked at a sparrow? Really looked? The sheer beauty of each individual feather, the way that together they make complex and wonderfully detailed patterns and shapes. The brightness of the eye, the delicacy of the claw. The more you look the more there is to see. In the cock of its head, the flutter of its heart, the tilt of its wings, our sparrow expresses always the essential nature and beauty of sparrow-hood. He is every bit as extraordinary as the eagle.

I believe that’s what we’re called to: find and express in every moment our truest nature, our truest beauty.

Can you find one small way to do that today?


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21 Responses to How to be ordinary

  1. that’s so Benedictine isn’t it Tess? – to glorify the common.

    I’m falling in love all over again — with moss. I bought land and am fencing a pasture and as I walk along I watch for moss and kneel down and look deeply. But then I happen to look up hearing ducks and watch as the huge flock wheels and swoops and quacks … a spring ritual that is rare (to me at least). I’m lost then – not even ordinary and yet — it is all ordinary everyday life. Always there.
    Karen recently posted..The humming treeMy Profile

  2. Thoughts:
    The John Donne quote: ‘Never ask for whom the bell tolls. . .’
    The lyric of that old Gospel hymn: ‘His eye is on the sparrow. . .”
    This page: http://yewtreenights.blogspot.com/2012/03/feathers.html
    We watch the old Jimmie Stewart film “It’s A Wonderful Life” and get a little misty and then it’s business as usual. But you know that bit at the end where Stewart’s character, George, is shown what the world would have been like if he’d never been born and all the ways it would have been different, poorer, worse? That’s kind of what I think Heaven is — you are shown how many lives you touched and the differences you made. Because it’s not about the big things, the schools built, the hospitals endowed, the discovery of a vaccine. Those count, sure. But the really big thing is like the butterfly effect — the flap of a butterfly’s wing can have far-reaching and cumulatively huge consequences. You get to see all those little things, the smile at a harassed store clerk, opening the door for someone juggling a bag of groceries, picking up somebody else’s trash and putting it in a bin, and their cumulative effect on the world. It’s about all the little everyday miracles you left in your wake like footprints wherever you passed. And that’s what makes it Heaven.
    WOL recently posted..I Need To Check My Tumblr Stream More OftenMy Profile

    • Oh yes, It’s a Wonderful Life is so fantastic. I love what you say here – about noticing small things, butterfly wings (wasn’t that the Ray Bradbury story?) and cumulative effects. And I thank you for your link to Yew Tree Nights.

  3. In Rockefeller Center in NYC, there is an enormous golden statue of the Greek God Prometheus. And there is a stair you can ascend up to an overlook and walkway above it. So I took my camera with me and climbed the stairs thinking I would photograph the beautiful architecture in that area and the sky. But when I got up there and was standing above the head of the statue what I saw and ended up photographing was not the panorama, but the most precious, delightful sparrow, sitting on top of the golden locks of Prometheus’s head, and chirping away with delight. The bird was incredibly endearing, more valuable to the heart than innumerable gold-plated gods. So I named the sparrow Prometheus !! the god who gave fire to mortals. Here’s one of the photos ((-:

  4. I would not have used the same words, Tess, how to be ordinary. Still I think this is what my whole being is longing to attain.
    Karen’s comment that the theme of your post is Benedictine also feels right.
    I woke up this morning wondering how I could free myself of all that I have accumulated (and dreamt of having when I was a young woman) over my life-time…
    claire recently posted..Yo Soy el Camino, la Verdad y la VidaMy Profile

    • Thank you claire. I hadn’t had Benedictine in mind when I wrote this, I think it just inserted itself, and I’m delighted that you and Karen spotted it.
      Freeing ourselves is tricky, because the desire to let go is itself a desire…

  5. Great suggestion-I think when we are our most ordinary selves,we would be living in a more mindful way and maybe derive more pleasure and purpose along the way.

  6. I love the way you’ve directed us away from the post-modern propensity to be grandiose, over to the better focus of: how can we contribute?

    On a separate topic — do you ever like to visit the States, Tess? We’ve got a guest room here in Portland, Oregon. It’d be fun to hang out together, riff on the things we’re both so passionate about, and show you some beautiful places. Just a thought.

  7. May I have permission to use this post, giving you credit of course, in a class I’m facilitating on “gifts and callings”? I like the way you talk about us being called to be that which is most truly ourselves — our truest nature and beauty.

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