Ordinary

It’s a pejorative word, isn’t it. Dismissive. Boring. Mundane. Much of our lives are made up of ordinary tasks and responsibilities, and we often aren’t happy about doing those things. We look for excitement and entertainment to divert our attention, losing ourselves in the lives of others. We do a lot to escape what we disparage as ordinary,

But when I really think about it, things I barely notice during a routine day become remarkable when I’m unable to do what I need or want to do. When I’m unwell, I miss the ability to smell or taste, the capacity to concentrate, the energy to do even simple tasks, muscles that don’t ache. So far my losses have been temporary, but I know that won’t always be the case. Then I will desperately wish to recapture my ordinary life.

I take for granted things that bring actual value to my days, often in favor of passing time with unremarkable and ultimately meaningless distractions. My friend Marshall took this photo during a NYC taxi ride. I both laughed and shook my head in resignation when I saw it, a scene with which we are all too familiar.

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We regularly override ordinary time with other perceived needs, without recognition of how miraculous it is that we can actually take a walk, breathe deeply, look around, and acknowledge one another. It’s the ordinary that’s truly extraordinary. I hope one day we’ll wake up again and know this.

 

 

Book List

I found all the following books good reading these past few months, but you will notice I have been particularly captured by Geraldine Brooks, whether she’s writing about the Civil War, early New England, King David, or her own life. I completely understand that book preferences are dependent on too many variables to dare to recommend, so you’re on your own! (Graphics and commentary all lifted from Barnes & Noble’s website.)

Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys and the Dawn of a New  America by Gilbert King

9780061792267_p0_v7_s192x300San Francisco Chronicle: “[An] excellent book on a little known and horrifying incident in which four young black men were rounded up and accused of raping a white woman, readers cannot help but be awed by the bravery of those who took a stand in the late 1940s and early 1950s.”

 

Dispatches from Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta by Richard Grant

The New York Times Book Review – Tom Zoellner

“Grant’s British accent doubtlessly served him well, allowing him to move throug9781476709642_p0_v4_s192x300h the tradition-bound society of the Mississippi Delta like a neutron, without obvious allegiances or biases. At times, it feels as if he’s initiating these experiences knowing full well they’ll provide zippy material for his memoir. But he succeeds, and with flair. His empathic manner, reportorial talent and eye for the unexpected detail make this a chigger-bitten trip that entertains as much as it informs.”

9780307279187_p0_v1_s192x300Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall

“McDougall recounts his quest to understand near superhuman ultra-runners with adrenaline pumped writing, humor and a distinct voice…he never lets go from his impassioned mantra that humans were born to run.” —NPR

Live by Night by Denis Lehane

9780062197757_p0_v3_s192x300Booklist

“Lehane’s novel carves its own unique place in the Prohibition landscape. . . . This is an utterly magnetic novel on every level, a reimagining of the great themes of popular fiction—crime, family, passion, betrayal—set against an exquisitely rendered historical backdrop.”

The Old Man by Thomas Perry

9780802125866_p0_v3_s192x300“Perry steers this cat-and-mouse adventure across the United States and, eventually, back to Libya, with verve, including just enough verisimilitude to keep intact the willing suspension of disbelief.”Christian Science Monitor

The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith

9781250118325_p0_v3_s192x300“Riveting . . . His descriptions are beautifully precise . . . The genius of Smith’s book is not just the caper plot but also the interweaving of three alternating timelines and locations to tell a wider, suspenseful story of one painting’s rippling impact on three people over multiple centuries and locations . . . Smith’s book absorbs you from the start.” —Washington Post

The  Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks

9780143109761_p0_v2_s192x300“The Secret Chord—a thundering, gritty, emotionally devastating reconsideration of the story of King David—makes a masterly case for the generative power of retelling. . .some of the magic here has to do with setting and time—for sensory dramatics, it’s hard to compete with the Iron Age Middle East. . .but Brooks’s real accomplishment is that she also enables readers to feel the spirit of the place.” —The New York Times 

Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks

9780143121077_p0_v2_s192x300“Brooks filters the early colonial era through the eyes of a minister’s daughter growing up on the island known today as Martha’s Vineyard…[Bethia’s] voice – rendered by Brooks with exacting attention to the language and rhythm of the seventeenth century – is captivatingly true to her time.” —The New Yorker
 

March by Geraldine Brooks

9780143036661_p0_v2_s192x300“With ‘pitch-perfect writing’ (USA Today), Brooks follows March as he leaves behind his family to aid the Union cause in the Civil War. His experiences will utterly change his marriage and challenge his most ardently held beliefs. A lushly written, wholly original tale steeped in the details of another time, March secures Geraldine Brooks’s place as a renowned author of historical fiction.”

Foreign Correspondence by Geraldine Brooks

9780385483735_p0_v2_s192x300“As a young girl in a working-class neighborhood of Sydney, Australia, Geraldine Brooks longed to discover the places where history happens and culture comes from, so she enlisted pen pals who offered her a window on adolescence in the Middle East, Europe, and America. Twenty years later Brooks, an award-winning foreign correspondent, embarked on a human treasure hunt to find her pen friends.” – Overview from Barnes & Noble website.

Stop the Car!

It hasn’t been a very pretty spring where I live, mostly overcast and dank. Flowers have tried to brighten things up, but the sun hasn’t been encouraging, and they’ve mostly given up after a half-hearted effort. I was therefore taken by surprise when a field of color caught my eye as I drove on a busy commercial street past the library one day. It was not my usual route, and I had no idea this treat was waiting for me. Sometimes you just have to stop the car, and take a walk on the wild side.

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Mysterious Mind

A ruined wall in Cuba provided this backdrop for a little Einstein humor. How the mind works is a wondrous and completely mysterious process; I can’t even imagine living in Einstein’s world (but I bet he had fun.)Einsteinframed-2

Small Steps

Easter is over, guests gone, laundry done, leftovers tossed. Return to routine, a check of the calendar to see what’s next. A let down, really. And then I have to think again. I don’t believe the Easter story included a “back to business as usual” message. The disciples had just been through the worst experience possible with their friend and the dreams he brought, and, as our Rector said in his Easter sermon, they weren’t thinking “resurrection” when word came to them that the tomb was empty. They were experiencing desolation, fear, shock, anxiety, anger. An empty tomb created disbelief, a tinge of hope, confusion, the need to regroup, reassess, wonder, talk, wait…. Time was required to process this disaster, taken in small steps, to perceive not only what had taken place, but what they were supposed to do about it. Their lives had been changed, and the trajectory of world history altered, but how much was it possible to really comprehend then or now?

I’m not likely to change my life, and definitely won’t change anything in the world. But I’d like to stay open to new possibilities along with a return to routine. My small steps have to be taken within the world I know and see, and happily digital photography offers me a route to a more receptive mind. Imagining a spring poppy again and again through simple filters (new eyes) is a lifeline to unveiling the renewable, creative energy that permeates our world, as it seems to do endlessly with humor and beauty. I can see “resurrection” every day in small things, no matter how slowly comprehension evolves as to what it all might mean.

 

Spring Cleaning

It feels good. Windows that shine, wool sweaters banished, diminished clutter, lighter weight. Lots of ways to change pace and focus and move into a fresh season. But without a spring cleaning of my mind, I know I’ll quickly lose touch with that positive shift.

The week between Palm Sunday and Easter is a great time for me to sink into mind cleansing. Even without the theological substance that my tradition offers me to savor, a narrative that begins with a spirit lifting parade, only to cascade swiftly into realities wrought by the complexities of power and powerlessness, and narrow perspective compounded by betrayals, is a cautionary tale for all matters of humanity.  I don’t need to look far to find similar stories in the framework of current culture to remind me that we are connected as flawed beings far beyond the boundaries of time and place.

And we are told there is much more to the Easter story, profound to the edges of belief. Whether one considers the narrative historical or hybrid myth does not concern me at all. Gifts of love and hope are freely offered; values to enhance a meaningful life in a complex world are provided: justice, non-violence, forgiveness, compassion, care for the earth and one another. I don’t have to understand, defend, or try to convince; all I have to do is shift for a time beyond self-interest, sit in stillness, and welcome the peace that comes with having chosen to listen. The opportunity to cleanse my mind is not seasonal, but the miraculous beauty of spring invites me to open my eyes, and walk my path with a more hopeful, grace-filled heart.

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