When I was a senior in high school, I was in the music Oliver! at the local college theatre. I worked all day to help build the set and then attended rehearsals every night. I assure you, in spite of the exhaustion, I was the very best Crowd Member #3 and Hall Guard #2 I could be, and participating in theatre those few years changed my life at least in some small measure. Theatre can help shy, quiet kids gain confidence to do something as crazy as speak in public once a week.
One night, I overheard the director of the show speaking to the young man who was playing Oliver. He said something I’ve never forgotten: “Plays are not written about ordinary people. They are written about extraordinary people.” I think about that every time I watch a play, musical, TV show or movie and feel just a little jealous at how extraordinary the characters are. They all seem to have more adventures than me, speak more languages than me, have bigger muscles than me, and impact more people than me. Because the director was right, you see: there is never an ordinary hero or villain involved in any story. Or else, it would make for pretty boring entertainment!
So we are surrounded in our media by nothing but extraordinary people, and I believe being surrounded by the extraordinary is warping our sense of reality. Now, I’m sure the quest to be special is nothing new in human history. But we live in a time of media proliferation that could only have been imagined before. Hundreds of channels, endless streaming services, movies for $1.50 at the grocery story…these are new to the way we perceive the world. Even “reality” shows are about extraordinary people. They’re “naked and afraid”, extraordinarily talented at singing or dancing, or so beautiful that 25 women are waiting in line to marry them, just to name a few.
Couple the fact that we are surrounded by the extraordinary – which can only serve to remind us how ordinary we are – with social media, and we have an epidemic on our hands. Not only are we surrounded by extraordinary tales, but we are virtually encouraged to be narcissists, living parallel lives on social media where we get to be as heroic as those on stage and screen. How often do we present our ordinary lives to others on social media? Probably not very often. And when we do (as in, “Look what I had for breakfast today!”), we are roundly criticized for filling the feeds of others with pointless and boring information. So the trips we take, the expensive meals we eat, the amazing birthday parties we throw…these become the extraordinary bits of our lives that others see. Again, we are surrounded by the extraordinary.
Which probably makes us feel ordinary. I’m willing to bet that for some of us at least, this becomes a hidden cause for despair or sadness. We begin to feel like losers because we have not achieved what the world says we should. We work, we have a family (or not), we enjoy a good cup of coffee and novel from time to time, we live in a modest home and drive a Ford. Surely there is more to life than this! It seems everyone else is getting ahead and I’m just ordinary!
The truth is that we are all “just” ordinary. And we will have to actively resist the lie that the theatrical life is laudable, or even true. How often are movies “based” on true stories, but if you research them a bit you’ll see just how much dramatic license is taken.
And of course, in God’s eyes, we are more than ordinary; we are precious, made in His image, and given unique vocations that only we can fulfill in His Kingdom! God accomplishes his will through ordinary means, and who are we to overlook that we are these ordinary means God is working through? The commandments to remember here are the 9th and 10th about coveting. In short, we are not to covet our neighbors’ lives. And we should remember that despairing over our “ordinary” lives (because every one else’s life seems to be so extraordinary) is a form of coveting.
So do not neglect the ordinary life that you have, for to do so would be to resist God’s will for your life. Allow the extraordinary lives on the stage, silver screen, and even social media to be what they often are: works of fiction. Besides, an extraordinary life is never easy, and is surely full of more despair than the ordinary. All the more reason to be thankful for an ordinary life. So when filled with angst that your life is not measuring up, remember that it is okay to live, and then die, ordinary and all. That was God’s plan all along.