The extraordinary challenge of living an ordinary life

by on Tuesday, 28 May 2013 Comments

There are extraordinary moments in life. Moments of deep, soul-shaking happiness, moments of tremendous discovery, moments where the mountain we climb during the entirety of our existence suddenly offers us a glance of the richness of its landscape – valleys, clouds, streams and lofty peaks... There are also moments of extraordinary misery, when a beloved one disappears, when one's love is betrayed, when sickness is diagnosed, or when goals and dreams prove impossible to fulfill.

Yes, there are very special moments of life, the intensity of which are almost impossible to accept – even when joy happens to be the dominant feeling, for joy can be so strong and unexpected that nothing prepares us for it. It often happens that we go through these special times with more resolve than we could have thought possible: they mobilize within us the whole of our life energy. Actually, sometimes they mobilize so much energy that we need months or even years in order to achieve a new balance.

And there are "ordinary" times; they probably make up the large majority of our existence. They may be filled with challenges that do not seem to be dramatic, challenges to which we respond day after day. But it is "ordinariness" that constitutes the real, huge challenge. It is day after day that we have to deal with the tasks to fulfill, the care to provide, the same old difficulties that arise again and again. We may have to deal with solitude or with over-business, with our own health situation or the one of a family member, with a job a bit too challenging or truly boring, with a difficult child or a difficult old person (or both), with a recurring trauma, a haunting memory, a question about the wisdom of such or such choice we made in the past... We have to live with it day after day, and we know that these ordinary challenges on the long run require from us an extraordinary courage.

How to confront the ordinariness of life? We need first to find regular moments of quietness and introspection. During such moments, let us not focus primarily on the difficulty we are facing, but rather let us ponder over other recollections, over unexpected gifts that we will suddenly recall: the smile of a child, the leaves on a tree, a meal shared in an atmosphere of relaxation and complicity. It is from such a distance that we can peacefully confront the challenge that silently haunts our day, gathering the courage to continue, and maybe progressively discerning a way to alleviate our burden and even to take a decision long differed. In any case, let us be sure that the ordinariness of life shapes and refines our soul, provided we remain able to raise up every day with a loving and anticipated "yes" to anything we may be asked to give and to receive in the course of an existence that our forbearance can indeed make become extraordinary.

Drawing by Bendu

Benoit Vermander (魏明德)

Benoit Vermander lives in Shanghai. He teaches philosophy and religious anthropology at the University of Fudan.

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