Here's my New Year's wish for visitors to this Church of the Churchless blog, myself, and indeed, everybody.
Be ordinary. Do ordinary things. Feel happy in your ordinariness.
I say this because now that I've reached the wise old age of 71, I've realized that overlooking the ordinary that's right at hand for some supposedly extraordinary thing that's around a corner has some serious drawbacks.
One reason is what I talked about in a post last month, Why you should be happy today, right now, no matter what.
Be happy today, right now, at this very moment and every following moment.
Why? Because our future contains only three possibilities.
Tomorrow, or the next moment, could be better than right now.
So be happy! Life will look even brighter soon.
Tomorrow, or the next moment, could be worse than right now.
So be happy! Enjoy life in this more pleasant present.
Tomorrow, or the next moment, could be the same as right now.
So be happy! Life has brought you some stability.
I'd like to die with a smile on my face. Problem is, I don't know when I'm going to die. Few people do, aside from those condemned to death, those who commit suicide, and a few other types of predictable deaths.
Since my life, as is true of almost all other lives also, mostly involves experiencing ordinary things with my ordinary self, it figures that being happy with ordinariness offers the best chance of dying with a smile on my face.
Or at least, with an effort to smile. And if even that isn't possible, with neither a smile nor a frown, but an expression of acceptance.
Another reason is that ordinary things bring considerable pleasure when they are enjoyed for what they are, rather than feeling that we're missing out by not pursuing something extraordinary.
Here's an excerpt from a 2018 post, "Happiness lies in ordinary things." This is a quote from a TIME magazine essay by Meg Wolitzer in a special issue about the science of emotions.
At this point, being happy is about having the space to appreciate the ordinary things that do in fact make me "happy," though at first glance they might not be seen that way.
An absence of chaos; an absence of phone calls with disturbing news; an absence of business emails that up-end your day and demand attention right then and there; no acutely ill parents; no fragile children calling shakily from college.
Being able to sit down with a glass of wine and some really good, tiny little olives with your husband; having a nice meal with your kids that's not rushed or fraught.
These seem like small things, perhaps pedestrian things, but I protect them fiercely, knowing that on the other side of an imaginary wall waits the possibility that all of them will soon be gone and that something terrible will replace them.
But I no longer quake in fear.
I used to think that happiness was something a person was so lucky to find that, like Lord Voldemort (a.k.a. He Who Must Not Be Named), it should never actually be mentioned. Now, with happiness taking on a new, modest cast, the fear of losing it is smaller too.
You might think: Good god, woman! This isn't happiness. Happiness has wild colors and flavors; it involves bodies draped across a bed, or things that come in gift wrap. Or even, once in a while, Carvel. Don't you want any of that?
Of course I do.
But being allowed to enjoy some of the more modest pieces of my life happens right now to be my own personal Carvel; my own dachshund, gift-wrapped present, snow day and secret lover. Perhaps for most of us -- or anyway, for me -- happiness has gotten smaller over time, becoming endlessly and exquisitely refined, though somehow never diminished.
Lastly, I'm continually impressed by the marvelous grace and courage of ordinary people. There's no need to look for heroes anywhere else but next door. I'll offer up two examples from my ordinary life.
Here's a Facebook post from a woman I've known here in Salem, Oregon for many years. She's one of the sweetest, gentlest people I've ever come across. When she was diagnosed with lung cancer, even though she'd never smoked, this was a big shock to me and her many other friends.
Yet yesterday she wrote:
What a year! 13 months ago I was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. I haven’t written about it because I know that many deal with worse, and the world is beset with larger problems than what I face.
But, at the end of 2019 I’d like to share what these harrowing months have taught me.
Despite pain and fear, illness and uncertainty, 6 hospital trips, harsh chemotherapy, infections, being too sick to work - or sometimes even to eat - I have learned gratitude for each and every day. Maybe this is surprising, maybe it isn’t.
I have been amazed at how many have been generous to me, and how many have been kind to me. How many have donated time, resources, advice and food. THANK YOU, thank you!
Also - I can’t remember ever enjoying each day more, or feeling more gratitude for the multitude of sights and sounds, large and small, that make up my life. I can’t remember ever appreciating more the wonders that each day brings.
Scans show the cancer is growing, but I mostly feel pretty good these days, and keep hope alive. While my prognosis is not what I want, I understand that ultimately we all have the same prognosis.
I celebrate knowing you! I wish you a happy and meaningful 2020!
Those words are more inspiring to me than anything I've read in a religious book, or heard from a religious person. They're the words of an ordinary person dealing with their troubles in an amazingly courageous way.
Then, my wife came home a little while ago from her New Year's Eve stint as a volunteer dog walker at our local Humane Society. She told me about a man on her shift who "walks" dogs even though he is in a wheelchair.
This can be difficult for him even on nice days, since some dogs are strong pullers on their leash, so can take him for an unwanted ride before he can get them under control. Today it rained heavily for much of the dog-walking shift.
He didn't have a jacket with him, so even though my wife helped him find a jacket he could borrow, it wasn't waterproof. And his knees got soaked anyway from sitting in his wheelchair while walking dogs in the rain. Yet this man is one of the more dedicated dog walkers.
An ordinary man. Doing an ordinary thing. Yet in such an admirable way.
I aspire to being as good a person as the woman with stage 4 cancer, or the man who walks dogs with a wheelchair. I have no interest in emulating saints, gurus, holy men/women, or any other religious personage.
I just want to learn from ordinary people who are able to live their lives with love, peace, acceptance, and courage.