Ordinary is OK

Sunday, October 7, 2007

The world is in awe of public heroes. By that, I mean well-renowned and successful people — high-profile statesmen, multi-billionaires, business tycoons, great artists, world leaders and the like who lead lives that are inspirational and expand the sense of the possible in many ways. How can we help but admire them? We are attracted to them because their stories are told constantly and everywhere. The media seem to revolve around their lives, picking up every morsel of information, every little anecdote about them and it seems that everything they do is of human interest. There is an insatiable lust to peek into their lives and get to know them intimately while they live out their everyday dramas on the biggest screen of all, which is public life. I am pretty sure that a majority who are reading this right now have often wondered what it’s like to be of such stature and would probably even like to be or at least experience being an icon, even for only a short while.

It is not surprising that most everyone would like to be famous. Most people would want their lives to encompass great concerns, visions and actions — to be of great consequence — and to be able to do that, we assume that one has to be a big player in society. Most people believe that for life to be meaningful, they have to live it in a big, high-impact way. Every parent, as early as the onset of pregnancy, has imagined what his child will be like. It’s not farfetched to fantasize that he/she could be president someday, or perhaps a renowned scientist or artist, or a recipient of the Nobel Prize. And when in the course of their lives their children get to be famous, renowned or publicly successful, the parents feel they have done a great job of raising them.

This fascination with bigness is tied up with our own fascination with the idea of fate or destiny. All of us, at one time or other, have mulled over the idea of destiny. Is destiny real? What is my fate? Are we destined to do something big or be something special in this life? I believe that early in our lives, we all believe we were born special and that we are destined to do wondrous things. But somehow we give up on the idea as we get older. Perhaps because of early disappointments and traumas, we give up on the concept of the “bigness” as our destiny, or what great impact our lives could contribute to the world, and settle for just being ordinary and regular. As adults, we pretty much stop entertaining the thought of following the big “mission orders” from God to change the world.

Yet, despite the disappointment and the “dropping out” from the initial bigness of purpose we thought our lives would manifest, there are those who wake up to their own lives later on, and though the arena in which they see their roles in is nowhere as big or as prestigious or as hallowed as the hall where the Nobel is handed out, they have a pride and purpose that is wonderful.

Carolyn Myss, the intuitive healer, likes to ask her readers this question: If life is all about what one does, or about one’s job, does it mean that the jobless have no life? It’s her way of saying that every life has its own meaning and purpose regardless of the circumstances one finds one’s self in. Where one’s life is played out does not need to be a public one. The work need not be dramatic and high-impact or of interest to the media. The important thing is to determine one’s mission and to do it as best as one can.

This dose of reality and acceptance needs to come in before we can awaken to our life’s purpose. Many of us entertain the idea that every life is “a hero’s journey” — and it is, in its own way. But when we look at our own lives, we find that it is nowhere near monumental or in the scale that we romantically imagined it would be when we were younger. We are not Rizals, Ninoys or Mandelas who are able to capture the imagination of the world. And that’s okay. We may have wanted to play out our lives, perhaps as someone famous and admired, but ended up a simple family man who earns a simple living or a housewife. Some of us awaken to the fact that our destiny lies simply in being a neighbor to someone who enjoys our company, or a grandfather to a precocious child, a mentor to a troubled teen, or one who trims someone else’s garden or comforts a sick person. Where we thought we would be the hero who gets the girl and rides towards the sunset, we end up playing a part that seems far less big. Instead, we are the stable boy who makes sure the hero’s horse is fed and healthy. Or perhaps one of the townspeople who cheers as the hero rides away. And that’s all right. In fact, when we really realize our purpose, it even feels like that is how it should be.

When we know the mission that is our life, the magnitude of the arena in which we must fulfill our destiny it is not an issue, because everything we do becomes imbued with purpose and importance. Every minor detail is part of the mission order. Who was it who said that on stage, there are no small roles, only small actors? No life is too small not to matter, even if it is just to one person, or even just to oneself. I sometimes go through a lot of self-doubt and question the importance of certain things I do in my life. Often, I catch myself stuck in “big” mode where I feel that nothing matters unless it has a big, measurable impact on society. I have to knock myself on the head and realize that it’s probably my showbiz orientation that has made me biased toward big production numbers. It is this kind of thinking which prevents me from doing the tiny, less dramatic, but no less important work of, say, “just” doing the dishes, or being a dad who must be there for his son and daughters; or just being there for someone who needs to have someone listen.

I’d like to end this with a story. There was a man who was walking along the beach early one morning when he saw hundreds of starfish on the sand washed onto the shore and drying under the sun. And then he saw a young man picking up one starfish at a time and throwing it back in the ocean. Perplexed at what this young man was up to, he approached him and talked to him. He tried to ask the young man how he thought he could make a difference throwing the starfish back into the water when there were hundreds of them dead on shore and the hundreds more that lay there dying. Wasn’t he just wasting his time? Without missing a beat, the young man picked up a starfish and, throwing it back into the sea said, “Not to this starfish.”

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To residents of Makati and neighboring areas, here’s great news. The 37th run of “Tapping the Creative Universe,” a cutting-edge workshop that will unblock your creativity and joy, will be in your area this month. Dates for the workshop are Oct. 18, 19, 20, 23, 24 and 25, from 7 to 9 p.m., at the 4th Floor, Magallanes Barangay Hall, Lot 2, Block 6, San Antonio St., Magallanes, Makati. Cost of the workshop is P5,000. If you’ve been stalling about getting your stalled dreams and life going, this is the moment.. Call 0917-5251218 (ask for Sandra) or write to email jimp@gmail.net for a syllabus. This is the last run of TCU this year.