How About Being Just An Ordinary Person?
We are desperately missing inspiring images of good enough ordinary lives.
Being an ordinary person tends to be associated with being a loser.
The society of our times wants us to imagine that a quiet life is something that only a failed person without options would ever seek. We relentlessly identify success and happiness with being at the centre, in the metropolis, on the stage. We don’t like winter stillness or the peace that comes once we are past the meridian of our hopes. But there is, of course, no center, or rather the centre is oneself.
Montaigne, capturing the point, has written wisely:
Storming a breach, conducting an embassy, ruling a nation are glittering deeds. Rebuking, laughing, buying, selling, loving, hating and living together gently and justly with your household — and with yourself — not getting slack nor belying yourself, is something more remarkable, more rare and more difficult. Whatever people may say, such secluded lives sustain in that way duties which are at least as hard and as tense as those of other lives.
Perhaps success might — after all — be nothing more than a quiet afternoon with your friends, at home, in a modest street.
Maybe busyness does not add meaning to our lifes. We try to do everything on the fly. You cannot read a book or have a deep conversation on the fly. Thank God.
Most movies, adverts, songs and articles, however, do not tend to go this way, they continually explain to us the appeal of other things: sports cars, tropical island holidays, fame, an exalted destiny, first-class air travel and being very popular on social media. The attractions are sometimes perfectly real. But the cumulative effect is to instill in us the idea that our own lives must be close to worthless.
And yet there may be immense skill, joy and nobility involved in what we are up to: in bringing up a child to be reasonably independent and balanced; in maintaining a good-enough relationship with a partner over many years despite areas of extreme difficulty; in keeping a home in reasonable order; in getting a lot of early nights; in doing a not very exciting or well-paid job responsibly and cheerfully; in listening properly to other people and, in general, in not succumbing to madness or rage at the paradox and compromises involved in being alive.
There is already a treasury to appreciate in our circumstances when we learn to see these without prejudice or self-hatred. As we may discover once we are beyond others’ expectations:
Life’s true luxuries might comprise nothing more or less than simplicity, quiet, friendship based on vulnerability, creativity without an audience, love without too much hope or despair, hot baths and dried fruits, walnuts and dark chocolate.
Let’s enjoy the simple pleasures of life and, if you wish so, let us allow ourselves to stay gloriously ordinary.