What it Means to Be Ordinary
You've probably heard this story before, but let me tell it anyway.
It was in the early hours of the morning and all was quiet in the five-storey, five-star hotel. The last of the guests, most of whom had spent the better part of the night in the bar, the dancing floor or the casino had finally crept into bed and it was peace and quiet all round.
In the midst of this peaceful beginning to a new day, smoke began to billow out of one of the windows on the first floor. The building was on fire. The few workers who were on night duty quickly made their way to the upper floors where the guest rooms were, intent on warning the guests of the fast-spreading fire. As they moved from door to door, they were confronted by signs declaring boldly: PLEASE DO NOT DISTURB.
On another day, those little signs would have turned them back. But not this morning, not with a fiery death fast approaching. On another day, the thought of an angry voice shouting: "What's wrong with you, can't you read?" would have been enough to send the breathless men back to their work stations. But not this morning; lives had to be saved.
The workers went from door to door, banging away and shouting "Fire!" A few angry voices did indeed inquire about their literacy and state of mind, but they kept going until everyone was safely evacuated. In the end, everyone was of course glad that those little signs had been ignored.
An ordinary life is often a deceptively "comfortable", quiet life. Having paid our bills and owing no one anything, we feel it's too much trouble committing ourselves to demanding changes and directions that may lead to an improvement in our finances. So we put that little PLEASE DO NOT DISTURB sign on the door to this area of our lives, pull the blanket over our heads and go to sleep. We know that our marriage is barely holding on, but because "we're not fighting," again we'd rather be left alone. In any case "most marriages are like this, anyway." So we commission the sign artist at the corner of the street to do for us that little sign for the door to our marriage. Before we know it, we have several of these, one for each of the many doorways into our lives.
All the same, I want to ignore those little signs and tap on your door. As I have found out, it is possible to live beyond the ordinary in many areas of our lives. We can overcome the disadvantages of our past and present, and put some transparency into our opaque future. Of course some areas of our lives will probably never go beyond the ordinary but many others can, and should.
Down in Kisii country where I come from, we have a saying that - literally translated - goes something like this: He who has a kinsman gets led by the hand, but the one with no kinsman is left holding on to a dry sycamore twig. For some people, it is easier to dream than for others. All they need to do is dream and someone will be there to give them a helping hand. We don't get surprised when we read about their successful business ventures in the papers. For others, it's not so much that they have someone to help them out. They just happen to be smart and gifted. So they keep moving from one top position to another, their hand well held and guided by their abilities.
Unfortunately most of us are not like that. We literally have to grind through every step in life and, more often than not, our idea of success is to be up to date on our rent and other bills. If we can somehow manage to regularly meet the needs of our families, even barely, we sigh with relief. Thereafter, our lives take a predictable thirty-day cycle; twenty-nine days of accumulating debts and one day of paying them off. Long before we are forty, an unsettling sense of resignation has already settled over our lives.
It is for this reason that I became suicidal when I was twenty-nine. I had been a teacher for five years, but within those five years I was just one step away from reaching the top of what my teaching career had to offer me. So what was I going to do for the rest of my life? And if this was fulfilment, why was I broke financially, emotionally and spiritually?