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The patron saint of small and ordinary

Lately when I open my eyes in the morning, my “prayer” has been, “Please help me see the small things and appreciate the ordinary today.”  Here’s why.

Since I can remember I’ve wanted to be extraordinary.

In some ways that’s been great.  I’ve lived in foreign countries and learned (kinda) those languages.  I’ve danced on the streets of Aix-en-Provence and the stage of the Metropolitan Opera.  I’ve learned from learned masters, I know how to forgive myself, can confidently improvise in the kitchen, and still rock a one-handed handstand.

In a lot of ways it’s been terrible. For me, “extraordinary” has often been code for a desperate, hopeful plan to special enough to somehow be spared rejection and heartbreak — forever.  Special enough to be brought to the front of the line where I’d be given adoration, trophies, and invitations to prom — forever.

As a sad example, I remember being 25 and climbing on the white cliffs of Turkey overlooking the deep blue mediterranean sea, my youthful legs strong and my eyes clear — and feeling miserable, uncomfortable in my skin, forgotten by god, and lost in my life.

Maybe that’s just what being 25 is all about, but I am pretty sure trying to be so darn extraordinary had a little something to do with it, too.

So, now I’m “praying” to keep my eyes peeled for the small and ordinary.

I like the non-denominational understanding of the word and practice of “prayer” that I got from Anne Lamott’s book, “Help, Thanks, Wow.”

Essentially, she says there’s no need to get fancy-pants with it all.  Or get scared or self-righteous when the word “prayer” comes out.  And, these three small “prayers” — help, thanks, wow — are the basics that any of us need for this crazy pinball ride called life.


As in, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.  As in, my friend is in a bad way.  As in, ow, it hurts.


As in, loved that I hit all green lights on the way home.  As in, your text with the silly GIF with the goat, really made me laugh.  As in, the test results came back clean.


As in, holy exploding cherry tree blossoms!  As in, my six-year old used to be the size of a peanut and now he can almost beat me in a thumb war. As in, the pleasure of this deep, deep breath.

And then my friend Paul Dolman, who has an incredible podcast show, What Matters Most, thought we should add a fourth prayer:


As in, what the #@%&*?!?  As in, what is going on with this #@%&*?!? world?  As in, I’ve got no words right now, except #^&@**?!?!

(Nice one, Paul)

On my walk the other day, where my heart skipped a beat because the cherry trees are indeed exploding (along with some other tree I don’t know the name of but which has these audacious red — nay, vermillion — blossoms), I came across this poem.

Some neighbors posted it, in a little glassed-in cabinet, next to their front fence.

(Thanks, guys.  Wow.  I needed that Help today.)

Make the Ordinary Come Alive

Do not ask your children
to strive for extraordinary lives.
Such striving may seem admirable,
but it is a 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.

By William Martin

I’m all for not “playing small” — keeping our heads in our shells like turtles to stay as safe and comfortable as possible.  I’m all for stretching and growing and risking and expanding.

But I think going for “big” can bite us in the ass if we can’t also love what is small, humble, and ordinary.

Love and small stuff,

PS:  Great poem, right?  For what it’s worth, my parents didn’t kick me in the pants toward my Homerian quest for extraordinariness.  They were (and are) great models of “making the ordinary come alive,” and even home-grew tomatoes, apples, and pears to help show me.

But I will take the message of this poem wholeheartedly into my parenting of my child and into my relationship with myself.

Photo by Wendy K. Yalom Photography.  Mais, bien sur.

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