The Beauty in the Ordinary

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I am a writer today because I was a blogger first. Some 11 years ago I began a pseudonymous blog, as was the custom at the time–a place to write about my kids, ministry, and life in general. I wrote poems and top ten lists and meditations on parenting. I wrote liturgy but also cursed freely. It was a liberating space because there were no names attached, though if you knew me and stumbled upon it, you’d recognize me quickly. At least that’s what I always hoped. Authenticity, with a Google-proof veil of privacy.

Now eleven years and hundreds of posts later, I write this blog, I author books and articles for a living, I freelance for a non-profit, and I speak to groups about a whole host of things. But I don’t write as much personal stuff. Sabbath in the Suburbs has some memoir-ish elements in it, but I don’t know that I’ll publish another biographical book any time soon. My kids deserve not to be on display as they mature.

There is one place where I still write personal things. For the past few years I’ve been keeping three paper journals, one for each child. I call it The Memory Project. In it I write one-sentence entries about what’s going on in their lives. I keep it to one sentence because a paragraph or page is too much. One sentence is a small enough goal that I’ll actually do it.

My hope was to write every day, but every three weeks is more like it. I strive to record the quotidian moments as well as the milestones. In fact, I hope to write more of the former than the latter, since the latter are often easier to recall later.

This beautiful Atlantic article, The Value of Remembering Ordinary Moments, helps spur me along in this discipline:

Quotidian life seems too banal to document. Why write down routine conversations, ones we’ve had a million times and will have a million times more? Isn’t it more important to remember extraordinary moments: first steps, graduations, jobs, awards, marriage, retirement, vacations? Yet people seldom realize how fondly they will look back on days spent mundanely: a day spent reading in the bay window, a picnic in the park with friends. These things may not stick out while they are happening, but revisiting them can be a great pleasure. “Who would call a day spent reading a good day?” writes Annie Dillard. “But a life spent reading—that is a good life.”

I write these journals because I hope my kids will want this window into their childhood some day. I write because some things are too precious for Facebook… and other things are too mundane for it. But according to the article, it’s the everyday experience that we crave:

The people in the study were most interested in rediscovering the mundane experiences. Asked to write down what they were doing on an ordinary day (a few days before Valentine’s Day) and then on an extraordinary day (on Valentine’s Day), participants had more pleasure reading their entry about the ordinary day three months later than their entry about the extraordinary day.

When I reflect on my childhood, I remember the Christmas I got the entire series of Sweet Valley High paperback books (at least, the mere fifteen that had been published at that point). I remember the family trip to Colorado and the sooty chug-chug of the Silverton to Durango train. I remember my baby brother getting into my prescription medicine when I had the chicken pox and watching from the upstairs window as the paramedics drove away with him to get his stomach pumped. But I don’t remember what my random Thursdays were like. I don’t remember what our go-to dinner was on busy nights before my mother led the Girl Scout troop. I don’t remember shoe shopping.

My favorite movie of 2014 was Boyhood. Many people appreciated the cinematic achievement of following the same actors for seven years, but thought the story itself was boring. I agree that the movie was about the in-between moments–the fight before the divorce, the party after graduation–but I consider that a feature, not a bug. The scenes of a mother driving her son to school or a father taking his kids for pizza–those are the precious places of everyday grace.

Those moments are what make up a life. That kind of vision, a vision of the sacred in the ordinary, is what I mean when I talk about living Sabbathly. Living Sabbathly means we are awake to our life as it unfolds. And life unfolds primarily in ordinary moments.

 

5 thoughts on “The Beauty in the Ordinary

  1. virginiahollis

    that is why Anne Tyler books r so good. she writes about the ordinary. I too enjoy the ordinary moments of life especially when looking back on the. 🙂

    Reply
  2. Bob Braxton

    Still have the spiral notebook journals from when offspring was seventh grader (or so) and later. More recently I began what I call “grandparenting” journal – around Thanksgiving 2007 and then again four years later, so these days I keep those two plus one for spouse (this one I call “Third Life”). When will the youngsters read the daily “sfuff” ?

    Reply
  3. Sarah Erickson

    And I just love the word quotidian. Not an ordinary word, certainly. Perhaps makes the ordinary more extraordinary when used to describe it.

    Reply
  4. Mamala

    What a terrific gift you will have for your kids.

    It was frito pie or chili hot dogs, heated with cheese in the oven.

    I rarely trash a personal email from friends and family so there’s that.

    Reply
  5. Rachel S. Heslin

    Due to the needs of his schooling, caring for his mother, and other things, my husband has been gone from our son’s life far more than he would like. However, many times when he was away, I would record little “night night” videos from my and our son, 2-4 tiny vids of 30 seconds each talking about what we likes about our day. Over the years, we now have a collection of dozens upon dozens of snippets of Life spanning several years, and I am delighted that the record exists.

    Reply

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