“I used to dream about escaping my ordinary life, but my life was never ordinary. I had simply failed to notice how extraordinary it was” --Ransom Riggs, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children.
I used to do a lot of public speaking at schools, churches, retreats, camps, etc. and every time I did I would try to use stories from my life to convey different themes. It got to the point that when I would return to a specific place to speak again people would ask “Are you gonna tell that story again?” or “Wow, you've had some crazy experiences…is all that true?” That last question always confused me because my stories were always true, and to be completely honest, I never thought they were all that crazy, at least, no crazier then the average person’s life. You see, the point of telling these stories was never to showcase my life, but simply to use the experience as a catalyst for discussion. Whether it was the disaster that was my first time surfing, or watching a clown accidentally set himself and a classmate on fire (don’t worry, both escaped unharmed), or watching a little girl puke on a flight to California - all these things, in my eyes, just happened. But that’s the great thing about our lives, especially when we have the chance to share our experiences with others, the hum-drum becomes the outlandish and the hard life lessons we learn become inspirational to others. Think about it, everyday we go out and live our lives going through the day meeting deadlines, fulfilling responsibilities, studying, shopping, driving, relaxing, etc., and all around us people are doing the same. All of us are collecting experiences whether we choose to see it or not. This is one of the reasons I love to journal so much (when I’m disciplined enough to actually do it) because it gives me the chance to look back on the day and re-examine some of the things I might have missed:
Did I say “Yeah, you too” to the guy at the movie theater when he told me to enjoy the show?
Was that guy at the grocery store really wearing kilt?
Did I actually go the whole day without telling my wife I loved her?!
As we go through the day, some of these things can slip right though due to the constant barrage of other external influences, but when we take the time to stop and think about them, each ordinary experience can be turned into an extraordinary opportunity to share some basic human ideals.
For instance: the movie theater experience can teach us how over-programmed our responses to others have become - that often times when we communicate with others we don’t speak honestly. I didn't care if that guy “enjoyed the show” because he wasn't going to a show; he was working and serving ungrateful customers (like me) soft drinks and popcorn. Instead of seeing and responding to him as a human being, I set my brain to auto-pilot because I was too focused on not missing the previews (my favorite part of the movie-watching experience), so I missed a chance to connect with a fellow human being on a real and honest level by simply stopping for a second and honestly thanking him and wishing him a good day.
The guy with the kilt could easily be used to spark a conversation about how comfortable or uncomfortable we are with breaking social norms and looking or being out of place, acceptance of those that seem different or even showing off our cultural pride.
And finally, the deal with my wife shows clearly how often I tend to take for granted the people I love.
These are just normal everyday encounters that can be used to start a dialogue with others or reveal truths about ourselves. And this stuff happens to us every single day! There are millions of these stories happening all around us, for example: two girls just walked into the coffee shop I’m writing at and both look too young to be out on a school day, and one was just extremely rude to the cashier. So, what’s their story? Why aren't they in school? Why do they have matching nose rings? Are they sisters? Best friends? Why be so rude to someone that just didn't hear your order because you mumbled? Whatever is going on up there at the counter, there is some lesson that can be learned. I think one of the problems is that we have been so conditioned to only notice the loudest, shiniest, most extravagant or controversial stories; the blockbusters or the best sellers distract us so we often miss out on the subtle beauty of our own short stories.
So what lessons have you learned today? What story could you tell about the lady picking her nose at the stoplight? Or, the kid running up and down the street with the superman cape? How would our life be different if we took the time to notice the stories taking place in our ordinary day?
Take some time to look around and notice the little things.
Spend five minutes before you drift off at night to replay some events from the day: 1. Where did I go? 2. What did I do? 3. What did I notice? And finally, 4. What did I learn?
If you can find the time to do this and string some of these events into a cohesive narrative then soon you’ll start to see trends, reoccurring themes that can take us from simple third party observers of our own stories to the author of an epic tale.
Erik Ewing is the Program Director for The Authenticity Project, you can contact Erik at TheAuthenticityProject@gmail.com.