Civic/Social/Education

Extraordinary little things

It’s a cliché, but I believe every little bit helps. Emily Dickinson did too.

If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.

I remind myself of this ideal every time I help Love Wins by writing for its blog or by making business cards for Rocky. And it’s why I’ll continue to attempt to do little things despite a gut-wrenching struggle day in and day out that often keeps me up at night.

This internal strife stems from my want to change the world, a notion that preoccupies a lot of us whippersnapper millennials, writes Anthony Bradley at The Acton Institute’s PowerBlog:

I continue to be amazed by the number of youth and young adults who are stressed and burnt out from the regular shaming and feelings of inadequacy if they happen to not be doing something unique and special. Today’s Millennial generation is being fed the message that if they don’t do something extraordinary in this life they are wasting their gifts and potential. The sad result is that many young adults feel ashamed if they “settle” into ordinary jobs, get married early and start families, live in small towns, or as 1 Thess 4:11 says, “aspire to live quietly, and to mind [their] affairs, and to work with [their] hands.” For too many Millennials their greatest fear in this life is being an ordinary person with a non-glamorous job, living in the suburbs, and having nothing spectacular to boast about.[1]

I’m scared to death of this future, but living an ordinary life is something I’m trying to move toward every day. My parents have lived ordinary lives, and if I could live a life that resembles anything remotely close to what they have, I’d die a happy man. I recently emailed my mom and dad this excerpt from a post by Rod Dreher, writing to them that I hope they feel this way:

On this trip to Holland, I had a conversation with some old friends who, like me, are in middle age, raising kids. We talked about how satisfying daily life is, and how none of us, when we were young and just getting to know each other, would have been able to conceive of it. I mean, we would have imagined that we would have been bored out of our minds with the kind of quotidian lives we lead. In my case, Kinder, Küche, Kirche [kids, cooking, church] is about 80 percent of my life (my friends don’t have the kirche part, but otherwise, it’s them too), and, if you add in Büchen [books], boy, does that make me content. I wish it were possible to travel back in time and let 22-year-old me know that this kind of life is better than my stunted moral imagination back then could have conceived. It’s hard to accept that God might be calling one to live an ordinary life, but one infused with faith, hope, and love. That we might do more for saving the world (and our own souls) by committing to doing the dishes — a lesson that I’m still learning, by the way, so don’t give me that look, wife.

My mom responded to me with an incredible email, and in the message, she was perhaps the most open she’s ever been with me. I won’t quote it here in the hope that she will continue to be this forthcoming with my brothers and me, but after a touching introduction, she listed a few things that she and my dad do on a daily basis in living their ordinary lives. One “little thing” particularly struck me–my parents taking a shopping cart back inside a store instead of leaving it in a parking lot after they are done with it.

That my mom mentioned this action was special because the day before she sent the email, my co-editor C.H. McCants grabbed two shopping carts from the Whole Foods parking lot on our way inside the grocery store before we made dinner at this house. I looked at him in a funny way and remarked that I didn’t think we would need that much food. He placed one cart inside the automatic doors and used the other cart for shopping. After explaining to me that he always does this rather ordinary thing–leaving one cart inside the automatic doors and using the other one to shop–I felt rather extraordinary in a sense that I was outside the ordinary, in a bad way.

Dean Nelson, director of the journalism program at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, writes today at Donald Miller’s (author of Blue Like Jazz) Storyline blog about how he turned an ordinary situation into an extraordinary one, in a good way:

Last night I was leaving a meeting in downtown San Diego around 8:30. It was cold and rainy. I walked a couple of blocks to my car, parked on the street. Two homeless men were sitting on the curb, leaning against my car.

“Evening, gentlemen,” I said.

They figured out that this was my car.

“We’re not hurting your car or anything,” one of them said. “We’re just staying out of the wind.”

They got up.

For some reason, I said this to them:

“I wasn’t worried about my car, and I’m not afraid of you. Are you warm enough?”

“We’re really cold,” one of them said.

I opened my trunk and pulled out a hooded sweatshirt and a blanket.

“You guys will have to figure out who gets what,” I said.

Nelson’s entire post is worth a read, and Dreher’s latest book, The Little Way of Ruthie Lemming, is also worth your time.

I have a feeling a return to the idea of living an ordinary life will become more prevalent as localism, front porches, bartering, and community structures regain their significance in society. And I have a feeling I’ll be writing on this topic more often as I observe loved ones experience my similar struggles and as I spend more time with my parents to de-save the world myself.

In the meantime, I look forward to taking a morning walk with my mom and dad and dog this weekend at their lake house. I guarantee they’ll pick up a piece of trash or two along the way.


[1] SeeThe High Calling of Everyday Ordinary Living” post at The High Calling blog for a well-written overview of recent online pieces about this topic.

3 thoughts on “Extraordinary little things

  1. Pingback: Offer it up | the wayfaring

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