It’s that season again — the season of graduation and change, the season of lofty dreams and loftier still commencement speeches. For most of us, the sweetest words we can hear at commencement are — “I’ll keep this short.” But, more often than not, the speeches are grand appeals to the graduates to reach for the stars, to find their special bliss, to write a bestseller, to change the world. And off we go only to be disappointed by the ordinariness of our lives. But it is that very ordinariness that we should embrace and even celebrate.
Erma Bombeck, a beloved humorist and syndicated columnist who entertained a generation with her unmatched ability to poke fun at the sometimes drab routine that makes up our lives, spoke eloquently in a May, 1985 address to an enthralled audience at the Notre Dame College in Manchester, New Hampshire. Ms. Bombeck, with her characteristic humor and insight, urged the graduates “not to underestimate ordinary.” “Even ordinary people,” she said, “can be a hero or heroine to someone.”
But I would take Erma Bombeck’s advice a step further, and I would remind them that there is magic in the ordinary. It is the ordinary among us after all who make the world go round, who live quietly graceful lives, and who, when heroes are needed, step forward to make a difference. We saw it recently in Boston during the marathon bombing when ordinary people ran toward the chaos to rescue the injured. And it is invariably the seemingly ordinary among us who perform life’s most heroic deeds — saving a person, or a day, or even a moment, and in doing that, they’ve made the world a better place for all of us. And that is the essence of heroism, of a life well lived — that ability to make an ordinary moment special, and perhaps even life changing for someone else. It is in caring for those around us — a child, a lover, a sister, a friend — that our best selves shine.
Whatever road you choose in life, I would encourage you to embrace the ordinary, and to remember that there is beauty in the simplest of things — a summer sunset, a crashing wave, a child’s laugh, an old woman’s smile, and to see the world as Erma Bombeck did, and to remember to laugh along the way.
But understanding that there is magic in the mundane does not mean that you should neglect your long-held wishes and goals. Take the time to plant your fondest dreams and wishes in the garden of endless possibilities, and when you do — be sure to use ordinary soil for it is from that everyday soil that wishes bloom, and heroes are made, and life is truly lived and forever changed.
*Originally published in the Huffington Post