by Deb Graham
“It’s nice to read about ordinary people, which most of us are."—from a review by Charlotte
My 88-year-old mother just left after a visit extended due to a major hurricane taking aim at her hometown. As she said, “It’s never good when Anderson Cooper says the name of your county on CNN.” Mom’s flying 4000 miles to her home, diagonally across one of the largest countries in the world. She looked vulnerable as her face pressed against the window, waving bravely. Mom’s small, but one of the toughest people I know. Even watching the news on TV when it looked dire, she never had a come-apart. Instead, I noticed how she continued to do what she does, daily working the NY Times crossword (in ink!), ironing everything in sight, and encouraging the rest of us.
I’m thinking about my friend, Ruby, today, too. Ruby died a few years ago at the age of 96. I guess I should have grieved, but it's hard to mourn a life lived as thoroughly as Ruby lived hers. The paintball episode comes to mind. Ruby and I, along with a few other friends, had a quilt project going; in the space of three years, we made 1006 baby quilts and donated them to Project Linus. Great group, by the way; they believe, as I, that any child dealing with illness or loss will cope better wrapped in a warm soft blanket of their very own.
When Ruby was much younger, say 94 or so, she and I sat in my home, stitching, talking, being together. My teenaged sons tumbled in, laughing after a round of paintball in the woods. Ruby had never seen a paintball gun. Interested, she asked if she might give it a try. Smirking, the boys agreed. One took her arm --he's been taught respect—and slowly led her to the target set up in the back yard. His brother explained how to shoot the gun, casting glances at me. I could see in his eyes he doubted frail Ruby could even hold the gun up, much less pull the trigger. Ruby took aim. And hit TWELVE bull's eyes in a matter of seconds.
I can still see the shock on my sons' faces, as their respect for this wobbly old lady soared. Turns out, one of Ruby's childhood chores was keeping down the population of rats on the irrigation ditch on her family's farm.
You can't tell by looking, can you?
I think my reviewer nailed it. In twelve words, she pinpointed a truth humanity forgets. We’re all hungry for relevance, to be notable, or to be liked or at least noticed. We can do that by just being ordinary. We’re drawn to people who are ordinary; they’re not intimidating. We just don't always have an opportunity to see other people because we are all busy just getting by.
Not wanting to be a "somebody" or trying to become relevant is probably the easiest road to travel through life. It adds a lot of pressure to try to be a "somebody." Once labeled as a somebody, you have to continue to be a somebody in order to feel relevant.
As an author, I frequently feel like a fraud, as if They expect me to be something I’m just not qualified to do. Teach a workshop on self-publishing? um, okay. Lead a group through a self-exploration writing exercise? sure, no problem. Tell a group about my experience somehow stringing words into seventeen books? gleep; who am I to advise anybody on anything? Interview as if I am a real live author? Can’t they see I’m like the wizard of Oz, skillfully directing attention elsewhere? Whatever you do, don’t look behind the curtain!
Charlotte helped me realize how being ordinary is much more extraordinary than I previously believed.
We are surrounded by ordinary people doing wonderful things, sometimes extraordinary things, often without even noticing. Extraordinary is just a couple of notches past ordinary, after all. Maybe it’s not such a high bar to reach; maybe weathering a hurricane or rejoicing as a child learns to read or shooting twelve bull’s eyes is just what ordinary people do.
All it takes is getting up every day and being the best person we can be. Whether your place on this planet includes manning a keyboard, nurturing small people, juggling spreadsheets and bedsheets and paper sheets, do ordinary things- then do a little extra.
I come from a long line of ordinary people, none notable, all extraordinary. I hope to carry on the tradition, and one day, be as tough as my mom.