Friday, October 2, 2009

Ordinary Time

For much of my life I have felt special – exceptional and wonderful at times, isolated and cursed at others, but always unique and extraordinary in some way. This comes partly from my deep desire to feel always and everywhere unique. I am an Enneagram type 4, called variously the Artist, the Romantic, or – you guessed it – the Individualist. In fact, I was somewhat distraught when I read a multi-page description of type 4’s and found myself described so thoroughly – after all, it’s hard to feel unique when someone with whom you’ve never had any contact whatsoever has nailed you AND ALL THE OTHERS LIKE YOU to a tee. Sigh.

But sometimes that sense of uniqueness has come from experiencing the vision of a few others who have felt me to be exceptional. I have generally felt that they obviously knew only a surface version of me, or a mental creation of their own making, because they clearly didn’t see the vast character flaws and desperate insecurities that I know in myself. And yet I was pleased by this vision, and accepted it to a certain degree.

Lately, though, I have begun to see myself as very ordinary. This is a gift from a few men of my acquaintance: having gotten to know me to a greater or lesser degree, they have clearly not come across anything that seemed to them unusually lovely or wondrous. The mirror they have held up to me is of a smart, fairly attractive, sometimes funny, often too self-absorbed middle-aged woman – in other words, not some bright lustrous shining star, but a typical 40-something female solid citizen. Dime a dozen. Ordinary. To tell the truth, this has been a bit difficult: shouldn’t everyone acknowledge the wonder that is me? Sounds like a fine idea to my ego, which apparently doesn’t get sarcasm very well (luckily my conscious mind more than makes up for this lack).

So, that doesn’t sound like a gift, right? And it has taken me a while to see it as one, but I’m starting to catch on. To be extraordinary, I have to define myself in terms of how I compare to others - others become the standard by which I judge what it means to be me. But there is a much different standard lurking at the edges of my consciousness these days, of a perfection in the totality and unity of all that is – no comparison, no standard, because no distinction. I am ordinary and you are ordinary and Gandhi and the street vendor and the Wall Street exec are ordinary parts of the extraordinary unity of everything that is.

In the Catholic liturgical calendar, those times which do not fall within a particular season or holiday are called Ordinary Time. This isn’t “ordinary” as in “common” or “unimportant” – it actually comes from “ordinal”, in the sense of being counted – but the deeper concept is that the mystery and wonder that might get celebrated most spectacularly in the holidays and seasons is nonetheless present in the midst of every day.

So as I come to accept myself as an ordinary woman living in Ordinary Time, I will thank these men. They will give other women the gift of finding them fascinating, but I am grateful for the blessing they have brought me, even though they are probably unaware of it. But that’s ordinary in itself: blessings abound in all directions, if we only have our eyes open to see.

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