The Beautiful Ordinary

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We are obsessed with the extraordinary. Extraordinary accomplishments. Extraordinary intelligence. Extraordinary experiences. Extraordinary wealth. Extraordinary beauty. Extraordinary danger. Extraordinary behavior. Extraordinary pleasure. Extraordinary evil. We can’t get enough of the extremes.

If one looks at headlines, magazine and book titles, or the movies we watch, it would seem that no one is interested in the ordinary.

Ordinary is boring, right? Plain. Uninteresting. Forgettable. Lame. Ordinary is just so….normal. Or worse. It might actually be average. I shiver with mortification.

As we were raising our kids, the concept of “quality time versus quantity time” frequently came up as a reference point for good, or bad, parenting. I never researched it to any degree but the general sense I had was that quality trumped quantity. Fewer special moments – extraordinary moments – were better for our relationship with our children than a preponderance of normal moments. Doing a Google search this morning, the top result is a study from 2015 affirming the “quality time” conclusion.

To be fair, the study referenced above is really more about the “guilt” of not spending enough time with children and approaches the notion of “quality” pretty basically. In addition, the high rate of divorce also seems to affect the notion of “quantity” and “quality” due to the constraints of time and access. In this sense, having few “quality” moments which are extraordinary might seem more important when time together is very limited. For some of us, our love language is about the extraordinary, and “making memories” becomes the essence of quality time.

However, as I’ve become a grandparent and had the opportunity to be a part of the life of my grandchildren, I’ve noticed something quite profound. The more I’m around them, the more they want me around. Granted, one could argue that “how” I am around them influences that result. In that sense, all time invested in them seems to be “quality” time. Reading. Watching a movie. Sharing ice cream. Telling stories. Hmm. Sounds a lot like Relationships 101.

My wife often talks about the “beautiful ordinary.” The small moments that make up a normal day. A cup of coffee. A few minutes of conversation before running off to that first meeting. Preparing dinner or cleaning up together. In our Catholic tradition, we have something called “Ordinary Time,” windows of time blocked on the Church calendar that are not Feasts or Solemnities celebrating a particular event or sacrament. Most of our year, most of our lives, are spent in ordinary time.

What happens in ordinary time? Our habits are formed in the quantity of the ordinary. The way we eat or sleep. The way we use our bodies, or abuse them. The way we treat our money, or treat each other. The quantity of the ordinary is the steady river cutting grooves in the rock of our lives. Of course, it’s going to impact every one of our relationships. Of course, it’s going to define our career. Of course, it’s going to define our health. Our patterns are forged in the ordinary.

The beautiful ordinary is the result of a thousand small choices that form the fabric of our lives. What makes it beautiful? It is beautiful when we find joy in it. In the giving of our time, attention, love, effort, and heart, we create the beautiful ordinary, one small moment at a time. Along the way, we will find some extraordinary moments. The sunset. The mountaintop. The surge of the heart at the good, the true, and the beautiful. That moment of peak success.

But we don’t live there. The peak moments come and they go. They are not meant to be held. They cannot be stored for later access. They can only be lived, and remembered. Everything else is ordinary. Normal. Routine.

Apparently, the real trick to living fully is finding the beautiful in the ordinary. The more days that add up to joy, the more points in our win column. Said another way, the more we live the ordinary with joy, the better our life. It seems that it is a numbers game after all.

Please, seek the extraordinary where you can. Make memories with the exotic and the special. Shoot for the moon. Just remember, every moment in the ordinary is special too. After all, we only get so many of them.

Ultimately, an extraordinary life is built one ordinary moment at a time. When you think about it, that’s really quite beautiful.

Showing 2 comments
  • Jaime Borkowski

    I love this so much, Phil. So true. We are entering our busy baseball/track/dance season where we meet ourselves coming and going. I am so enjoying all my kids at this part of life, though, and I appreciate every little moment where they sit by me at the table and tell me about their day for a minute or stop and give me a hug in passing. This is where life happens!

  • Jarilyn Berry

    I love this as well. I’m always trying to be creative in my time spent with Pippa when all that really matters is that we are spending that time together, whether reading a book or playing with her toys (or my makeup). She will remember the small or ordinary things, and I just need to keep reminding myself of that. Thank you for reminding us of the importance of these little moments we share.

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