Ordinary, adjective: "normal; not unusual or special; neither very bad nor very good; unimpressive."
Ordinary, to many of us, isn't very interesting.
And therein lies a problem with us and our culture saturated and fixating, as it is, on celebrity: we often mistake importance for the amount of Twitter followers and Facebook "friends." Thus the ordinary, which the vast majority of us live in, means "nothing impressive" and therefore disreputable. It's a bias that seeps into our everyday language: "What did you think of the new restaurant?" "The service was great, but the food was ordinary."
In the Christian or liturgical year, however, Ordinary Time is the part that lies outside the seasons of Lent to Easter and Advent to Christmas. During those months, the color is green -- to signify ordinary growth -- and the Church celebrates not in one specific aspect but in all its aspects. It is by far the longest of the liturgical seasons, and doesn't have the stunning music of Christmas, the penitential introspection of Lent, nor the exuberant Resurrection celebration of Easter.
And that, alongside my human experience, leads me to think that there's probably a better scorecard. I'd like to think that the ordinary isn't boring and what's important is often hidden in the little, everyday things. Otherwise, most of us are going to miss so much joy -- because most of life is Ordinary Time.
Well, there's one more reason I've been pondering the ordinary -- it's that my father died two weeks ago. I hope that's no slight to his memory, but in so many ways, Thomas Cootsona's life was nothing extraordinary. Married 65 years, worked at only two jobs for much of his life, he died without many toys or wealth to speak of. And yet, this ordinary life was embedded in a time that produced subtle greatness.
He started his life in the gritty industrial town of Tacoma, Washington on December 13, 1923 and was soon to survive the Great Depression. He served in World War II, and became part of what Tom Brokaw named "the Greatest Generation," who rebuilt this country after these two devastating events. My dad also knew what the pundit and columnist David Brooks has called "eulogy building" (as opposed to "resumé building") -- playing catch with his son is better than staying late for work to impress the boss; using vacation days with my mom to drive his boys to a tennis match makes more sense than experiencing the latest vacation fad. As I remember my dad, I sense in him a tenacity to savor the ordinary.
He arrived at this determination through the necessities of his time and even the blessings of heredity. His father, Nicholas, emigrated from Greece in 1912 at the age of 12, undaunted by the perils of moving to an unknown country. My grandfather's poor English caused the crew at Ellis Island to misspell our name, changing it from Kutsonas to Cootsona. Nonetheless, he plunged into starting his own business, working 12-hour days, most of the time doing nothing more sensational than shining shoes. Nicholas' wife Elizabeth, my grandmother, fed her family by raising chickens, who produced eggs throughout the year... except when they didn't, then they became chicken soup. And Elizabeth did the butchering herself, putting her feet on the wings, a left hand lifting the neck high, and the right hand doing the deed. And yes, chickens do run with their heads cut off. Naturally, these were free range fowl, which would be entirely sustainable and trendy, if it weren't a response to raw economic need.
Through all this -- and so much more -- my dad taught me how to celebrate the everyday. He possessed a Greek spirit, always ready with a towel over shoulder and a bottle of sparkling wine -- "Why wait for a holiday to have a celebration? Let's just say, 'It's a day!' and celebrate."
The wise author C. S. Lewis -- whose ideas have never left my mind since first reading them over 35 years ago -- once imagined a scene. I paraphrase (which is another way of saying here's how I remember it). In a downstairs room in Oxford, there's a party of literary scholars all discussing and opining about the "right" books they've read and particularly on their associated insights. Upstairs, as the party goes on, there's a young boy reading Robinson Crusoe by flashlight. Who's really the lover of literature? Who's getting the most out of reading? The answer to Lewis's parable is obvious. The ordinary readers of daily life (as it were) may indeed be savoring their lives far more profoundly than the famous that immediately tweet their exploits to millions.
This makes me wonder some days if I, who has lived in much easier times, haven't succumbed to fixating on the exceptional. Don't get me wrong -- I've savored the extraordinary moments in my life -- but far more of my days and hours have been ordinary. And maybe what's important isn't just statistics. And maybe that's why most of the Christian year is Ordinary Time.
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