This (extra)ordinary life.

“Do not ask your children to strive for extraordinary lives. Such striving seems admirable, but it is the way of foolishness. Help them instead to find the wonder and the marvel of an ordinary life. Show them the joy of tasting tomatoes, apples, and pears. Show them how to cry when pets and people die. Show them the infinite pleasure in the touch of a hand. And make the ordinary come alive for them. The extraordinary will take care of itself” - William Martin

My mom shared this passage with my sister and me a few days ago. Later that morning, she posted it on Facebook, saying that she hopes she can internalize this kind of appreciation for the magic of ordinary life. 

I replied: “Mom, you do. You bring so much magic to the simplest things - summer mornings on the back deck, fresh berries and a hot pot of coffee, sun and wind in the trees. Your ability to create beauty in the home makes the simplest moments full of magic.”

It’s true. My mother can bring beauty and magic into just about any space with what seems like no effort at all. To whip up a meal, keep a home spotless yet warm and inviting, have food and coffee and drinks at the ready as soon as you walk in the door or wake up on a Sunday morning. Fresh berries in a beautiful bowl on the counter, stack of cereal bowls by its side. Hot coffee brewing, half and half in a pitcher beside it. The awning out on the back deck, the screen door open, and the summer breeze blowing through the house. The front door swung open wide to let in the morning light from the front garden, flowers blooming, the sunlight catching in their leaves. 

For so many years going home was fraught with something. The discomfort of growing into my own self mostly, I suppose, and the tension and worry that so often accompanied that. It was so hard to notice and appreciate all of my mother’s small beauties, to soften enough to feel my deep, unabiding love for her and all the beauty she has inspired and cultivated in my own life. I remember my dad told me once that one of the things that made him fall in love with her was how beautiful she was without even knowing it. It’s true – the beauty my mother creates in this world is done without great thought or effort, without pretense and out of love for others and love for beauty itself. She is an artist, after all, a truth that is evident in all she does. It is her deepest truth, I think – this love for others and for the beauty of the world in all its majestic ordinary-ness. I connect to that wholeheartedly today, and am so grateful to have learned and inherited that quality from her. After all, as William Martin says so beautifully above, that is the meat of this life. What is there to life if you cannot soften and open to the magic of those ordinary moments? The extraordinary are few and far between, and we can miss our whole lives waiting around for them.

I used to close up and shut down at the openness of my mother’s heart. Her deep love frightened me and I allowed myself to feel responsible for keeping her from her pain, mistakenly thinking that was my job, or that pain was something to be kept from at all. I am sure she did not do things perfectly. Perhaps there was a better way to express the brokenness of her heart, her fear and pain in the face of life’s many tribulations. But who gets these things right anyway? Isn’t that messiness part of the journey for us all? It is hard enough simply being a woman in this world, let alone a mother. To be split open by that kind of love and expected to have any idea what to do with it when you are filled with fear and pain is beyond me. I understand that now, and I can begin to understand the pain she felt when I turned my heart away from hers, shut her out and looked for love and connection in scary, dark places that she knew would only ever bring me pain. Somehow, I thought those places were safer, that there was less at stake there. Of course, I was wrong. But that is part of the messiness of this life, too. The journey begins with the hunt, the search, the setting off from home to find our place out in the world, only to come to realize the only home we have ever needed is right there in our own hearts, and that it is by opening our hearts to the world and our people that we become whole. 

This time going home was a different experience entirely. I didn’t completely realize it at the time, but looking back I feel only love and gratitude for the many moments of beauty spent together. The mornings waking by Harper’s side in my childhood bed, Harper running off to cuddle with her Nana while I crept downstairs for my morning coffee. Spending lazy days by the pool, evenings walking and eating together in town, taking my baby girl for ice cream at the local shop where I spent my youth, searching for fairies and butterflies with my sister in my parent’s yard, and adventuring around the city together through traffic and along cobblestone streets; Harper and my dad dancing to street music in Jersey City while we sat nearby waiting for our pizza to arrive. These are the ordinary moments that make for an extraordinary life. How blessed I am to have a life and heart so full with that magic.

“Right there in the thick of things we discover the love that will never die.” – Pema Chodron