Ordinary Life

My parents and I were walking along the Susquehanna River yesterday, the water glittering like a jeweler had laid out a million diamonds for us to look at; geese flying low to the water to save their energy; bugs out, birds out, people out riding bikes and walking their dogs. It was only 9:30 in the morning and already the sun was set on high. We were sweating and out along the water the air had a light haze to it. It was an ordinary summer day.

My step-dad trucked along ahead of us unsatisfied with our leisurely pace, and we let him go. Who are we to stop him? And it was nice having my mom beside me, my twin in the world, my like-minded soul mate who has already been through some of the harder parts of life. I am a sprout of her, a pedal, a dandylion seed she cast out on the wind. I will always carry a part of her in me, yet she tells me always that I do these things on my own. I’m not so sure I believe her, but it’s nice to hear.

We started talking about life – naturally, what else is there to talk about? She mentioned a Garrison Keillor quote she had heard on NPR or somewhere: “The urgency was just mine entirely. I didn’t have any interviews I couldn’t postpone. But I was 24. I was a graduate student in English, floundering. Liable to be drafted to Vietnam. Wondering what that would be like. Fearful. And one of the things I was most fearful of was living an ordinary life. And I had to come to New York to find a way out of that. … I was afraid of an ordinary life. And I came to New York and realized that is what we all get. We all get an ordinary life. And it’s good enough. It’s good enough.”

He went on to say (according to my mom) that once he had talked to a man in Africa whose goal in life was to provide for his family, be able to feed them and to buy a goat.

Growing up in this country, those are rights we all feel we are born with. Right this second if I wanted to go buy a goat, I would have the means to do so. I don’t have a family in the traditional sense of having a family. I don’t have children to take care of, but I have myself and my boyfriend and my cat and my friends. They are my family right now and if I needed to take care of them – make them dinner or buy them coffee; get a new bag of cat food for the cat – I would have no problems doing so. Something that man will work toward his entire life – his dream – I could take care of in a day if I really wanted to.

It made me wonder what we as Americans dream about then? Money? Cars? Changing the world, so people like that man in Africa can have a goat? What do we expect of ourselves and our lives?

I told my mom that maybe that’s why we are all so unsatisfied in our lives. We have our basic needs pretty much taken care of – well most of us – but maybe that’s why we expect more and more and more. Maybe it makes us greedy and existentially guilty? Maybe that’s why so many of us find it hard to go to work everyday, do the same thing, come home and do it all over again without feeling like we’ve made a difference in the world. I know it makes it hard for me sometimes.

But it’s true. We all live ordinary lives because we all live. We all work for something, we all love, hate, make dinner, buy apples, tie our shoes. We are all desperately trying to stand out in a world full of so many other people.

We may have these grand ideas and dreams of how life is supposed to be when we are younger. And there’s nothing wrong with dreams. I love dreams. But even movie stars whose dreams have come alive still need to wash clothes. True, they may be able to pay someone to do it for them, but in the end – they too are living an ordinary life, a human life.

But I still dream about standing out, maybe in my art, my writing or simply in the way that I love those around me. But in the end what I want is happiness and I think it’s the same thing that man in Africa wanted. In the end, happiness becomes a pretty ordinary thing wanted by a lot of ordinary people.

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