And there I am. Hot tea spilling over the counter and beneath the scanning thingy and I’m on the phone with a lady who’s asking me to do something that could very easily be done online herself, and I have to pause. The curly phone cord stretches as I reach for the blessed roll of paper towels kept on the bottom shelf of the desk, and by the time I stand back up with a wad of them in my hand, the tea puddle is inching even closer to the computer.
“Okay, no problem.” I chirp into the phone. “Do you have your library card number on you by any chance?”
I keep sopping up the tea with one hand and ringing up the “Search” screen with the other.
“Sure.” The lady’s voice is gravelly on the other line. “Wait just a moment while I go grab it.”
I breathe a small sigh of relief as I’m granted an extra handful of seconds to tear off more paper towels and clean up the remaining tea on the desk, the phone cord, and even the computer screen (the sheer amount of caffeine in this tea makes it a little jumpy I guess). By then, the lady is back, and the numbers are rattled off. I renew her books two clicks later and return the phone to its base, relaxing a little bit now that I don’t have to multitask. Then I marvel. At all the things she didn’t know, and then at what I might not have known either.
She had no way of knowing I was cleaning up tea, and I have no way of knowing if she was multitasking too. She could have been signing copies of her famous best-selling mystery novel or putting together a puzzle featuring many different kinds of chocolate. She could have been preparing for an intimidating doctor’s appointment, or perhaps she was adding nutmeg, cinnamon, and squash to her grocery list. Or maybe she really cared about getting her books renewed and that was the only thing on her mind at that moment.
I don’t think we are supposed to know necessarily. How could we possibly know anyway? I think we’re supposed get comfortable with the assumption that we don’t know, but with the knowledge that people are important.
Some people don’t mind chatting about what they’re up to at the moment, but I would say more often than not the people I speak to keep a lot to themselves (like me). So, what then? I think the point is just to remember that the faces and voices we interact with on a daily basis are in fact humans with their own lives, their own stories, their own fears and troubles, their own triumphs.
I can get so wrapped up in my own little world and how crazy it is my tea had to spill right when I answered the phone and how she shouldn’t be in such a rush because I’m not-so-clearly doing other things right now and why doesn’t she just renew her books online to avoid this entire conversation so I could be doing something else?
And on and on it goes. And my day remains all about me and how people are inconveniencing me and not being considerate of me (which is completely hypocritical because by thinking that I’m not thinking of anyone else).
I can miss it so easily if I’m not paying attention.
I have to tell myself, over and over. Even if it means I scribble it on the notepad by the monitor. Or if I hum it to myself as I make sure the authors are on the shelves in the right order. And then keep on humming it when I get home and interact with my siblings.
It’s not about me. It’s not about me.
I’m not trying to convince myself I’m not valuable. I’m trying to focus on the value of the people around me.
Heaven forgive me for the times I have projected ordinary on the lives of those around me who are truly extraordinary. Forgive me again for the times I have thought my own extraordinary better or more important than someone else’s.
How wrong that is. But it’s a habit like anything else. If you start your day thinking, “I hope everyone I interact with today has the goal in mind of making my life easier” then we’re off running toward a pretty miserable 24 hours.
Instead, I’m trying to think of it differently. As soon as I remember to do this, I try to think purposefully, spelling out the words slowly in my head letter by letter: Someone is going to need you today. You’re going to make their day better.
Letter by letter. Sometimes I’ll even write it down (double coffee days). Because I have to remember this. I have to keep this in mind between the people that pop up with all kinds of questions.
Someone is going to need you today. And you’re going to make their day better.
It’s not going to be glamorous. But you’re going to be the one that showed up. That spoke kindly. That didn’t pass along stress or anger, but absorbed it and took it out of the system for the day, leaving them with something a little better. Because they really, really matter in the grand scheme of existence.
I love to daydream about being an eternal creature trapped in this form, on this earth, in this time, for an unknown duration. It reminds me that there’s so much more than what’s on the surface level of everything. That there really are important things that go on every single day if we don’t look over them.
I think some of the hardest days that weigh heaviest on me occur when I have been convinced of and overwhelmed by the “un-extraordinary-ness” of myself and the world. How empty and monotonous everything becomes. It takes shaking the blinders off and searching for the wonder again to get the weight to lift, for the grey to seep back out and let the colors of things return.
There is purpose still. Greater things have yet to come. There is so much more at stake than my tea spilling on the desk. It’s practically petty to get so wrapped up in it. So how to get out of the pettiness?
First, I try to visualize the really extra extraordinary in my every day. I daydream that little white, glowing embers are left on the ground when I walk. That chaos that springtime flowers open a little bit further from their buds when I pass, like when the children return to Narnia and their presence, along with the Lion’s, make the winter around them thaw. The children don’t take these occurrences as reasons to go around proclaiming their superiority. More like the world around the children recognizes a great secret about who they are that the people around them do not. And the children are content to leave it that way.
But I also want to be in the habit of daydreaming these things about other people. There are no ordinary people after all. What if everyone else I encounter actually is just as extraordinary?
C.S. Lewis says:
“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.”
-The Weight of Glory
Everlasting splendors. Merriment. No superiority. How often do I turn that down for things that are meant to be inconsequential and trivial in my life?
I guarantee you, I did not think of that lady on the phone as an everlasting splendor. I was a tiny bit annoyed actually, and all she did was call. What do you do on those days? When you feel all kinds of wonderful and everyone else is frustrating?
I think the answer is in the wonder. You are all kinds of wonderful, but knowing your own wonderful turns into arrogance in the blink of an eye when left unrefined.
Unrefined wonderful can’t see anyone else’s.
It cannot escape the mind spiral that is me, me, me, me, me.
How do we get out of it? I think we have to fill up on wonder outside of ourselves. It’s how our own sense of wonderful gets refined.
We have to gaze on wonderful that has nothing to do with us until we are full. And if you start with anything but wonder, the order gets messed up. So, I go searching for all the wonder-full things. I have to drive somewhere with a view and park and recognize that I am not the only kind of wonderful out there. That’s part of what beauty is for. Inspiring wonder and awe and welcoming you to appreciate it and your place in it all.
I go places like the beach and I stand on the shoreline and breathe in all the way until my lungs are all the way full of salty air and I relax. There is enough space for me here. There is no competition. I find no need to be a brighter shine of wonderful than the glittering waves. I am seen. I get to places where I can see the horizon as the day begins and ends. I listen to songs that echo something deep down in my heart.
I find my place. I am SO small, surrounded by so much power and beauty, and the experience is humbling in a way that makes me sigh with relief.
Appreciating wonderful and beauty and glory that exists outside of myself removes a burden from my shoulders I didn’t realize I carried.
Unrefined wonderful is a burden to us, whether we realize it in our self-centered universes or not.
But being wonder-full? Full of the wonder that comes from appreciating the beauty and majesty of God? Of the glimpses of Him that we find in others around us? That frees our limited minds from the burden we should not have taken up in the first place.
So if you’re trying to catch the glimpses of God in the people around you, but you’re having trouble, remember that your own wonderful was never meant to be a podium that you stand on, but a wellspring that you rest in and give endlessly away.
Get alone with the Author of Wonder, the awe-inspiring Creator and appreciate His work. Let it fill you up from the inside. Because then, how can you not walk away from that place and leave a glowing trail? How can you not thaw the wintery, dormant landscapes you cross paths with? You are a masterpiece, and you have just soaked in the endless wonder of the one who made you.
By the very same logic, everyone else is too. Everlasting splendors, who are important and worth my time and my care. I can see it in them now, because I recognize their wonderful a bit easier.
Someone is going to need you today. And you’re going to make their day better.
I don’t want to miss it because I’m wrapped up in petty annoyances or because no one is trying to understand how difficult it is to talk on the phone and clean up tea at the same time like my fabulous self just survived. (???)
I want to be kinder than that. More considerate than that. More respectful toward the pieces of God in them than that.
Keep your extraordinary, but don’t let it project “ordinary” on everybody else.
Significant but anonymous.
(Shout-out to my coworker who happened to witness the very end of the tea-cleaning process and did NOT laugh at me. You are a star.)