See Extraordinary in the Ordinary

Bob Eng |

Years ago, a young mom made a remark that has stayed with me: “It’s so endearing to see how special it is for you to see your grandson go off to school.” We had both just dropped off our children for the school bus - her daughter and my grandson. After my grandson had boarded the bus, I took as many pictures of him as I could from outside the bus. The young mom had noticed my burst of photographic energy for my grandson.  I thought, “Of course it’s special. He’s growing up, going to school by himself, even going to potty by himself. These are all extraordinary moments.” The exchange with that lovely mom helped me realize that dropping your child off for the school bus can be a mundane daily routine. It wasn’t for me then and it isn’t for me now. 

That chance encounter years ago helped me realize I’m seeing more that’s special in the ordinary.  I find increasingly that I like to take snapshots of ordinary goings-on. Perhaps a photo of a tree that speaks to me, my wife cooking, working out, and yes, my grandson of yesteryear, now older, coming and going to school. Quite ordinary, yet delightful additions to memories that I’ll want to relive.  

My own preferences are a departure from current culture. We’re living in a culture that celebrates what’s special, unique, singular, thrilling, joyful, and enviable. Perhaps we get to be seen and heard only when we display what we have or done that’s special. While that recognition may provide psychological boosts, craving that kind of recognition can have a dark side. A photo of a kid on a school bus? You don’t have to be a social media denizen to know that it would barely get a glance, let alone a “like” or 👍.  

What is amazing is that what’s special can become ordinary. We can become accustomed to what’s unique, "best,” and "once-in-a-lifetime.” There’s only so much in what’s special before it becomes no big deal. Anthropologists train to see the most familiar things with lenses of unfamiliarity, novelty, and curiosity. We too can attend to and see the special in the ordinary, the unique in the day-to-day. On any day, in any hour, we too can experience wonder and enchantment, not as a goal, but as a by-product of living fully in the ordinary. And you don’t have to be a grandparent to experience such.