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Learning to embrace the ordinary

by Meagan Francis on May 18, 2014

Every Sunday morning I share a moment from my week and something it illustrated about motherhood, family life, or simply being human. I invite you to set aside a moment out of your weekend for reflection and join me for Sunday Morning Tea. -Meagan

big sur

 This was the scene from Big Sur, California, last Tuesday morning as Jon and I perched on a rock at a highway turnoff near the Bixby Bridge.

It is maybe one of the most gorgeous sights I’ve ever seen. Like, the kind that makes your heart beat faster and your eyes tear up and just leaves you speechless. 

I was speechless a lot on that drive, up “the 1,” from the LA area up to Monterey County, where I spoke for the Friends of Parents Place group on Tuesday evening. Everything was just so ridiculously beautiful. We’d round a corner and see a stunning stretch of blue-green water, then round another and see a jaw-dropping mountain range, and just when I wondered how it could possibly get any better, we came across the scene above.

We saw some other impressive sights on our trip to California: the view of LA and my first sighting of the Hollywood sign from the Griffith Observatory; the adorable city of San Luis Obispo, nestled in a green valley; spotting pelicans and seals in the wharf in Santa Barbara; the rocky coast outside of Monterey. It didn’t hurt that the weather was perfect the entire time we were there, either, sunny and 75-80 degrees and not a cloud in the sky.

jon meagan cali

So heading back to the Midwest on Wednesday – where we had to fly through a thick cloud as we made our descent into Chicago, which tossed the plane around more than I was comfortable with, and then landed in a 39-degree drizzle – was a bit of a rude awakening. Driving past industrial sites and strip malls on the long stretch of highway between Chicago and our home in Michigan, we marveled at how quickly we had gone from being enveloped in so much extraordinary beauty, back to…well, ordinary.

Re-entry to real life can be tough after a vacation, and this one has been particularly difficult because we were thrust right back into the ordinary-est of circumstances, with work and deadlines and cruddy weather to boot. It was so easy for Jon and I to fantasize that a life in California would be somehow more magical, more fun, happier, than our ordinary lives in Michigan. Surrounded by all the beauty in Big Sur, or all the activity in LA, a life has to be, well, just more somehow…right?

But the truth is, even people who live in the most beautiful locales or busiest cities in the world mostly live ordinary lives. They go to work, raise their kids, and pay their bills like regular people, regardless of the backdrop.

It’s easy to glamorize life when you’re on the outside looking in. But people are people, no matter where you go. We all have worries and bills and boring days and most of us do, occasionally, experience bad weather.

And when I really pay attention, I know that my little corner of the world isn’t really so ordinary, either: it’s just that we know the scenery so well that we don’t always notice its unique beauty, like this view just a few blocks from my house. 

photo (36)

There’s a popular quote that gets shared often on social media, something to the effect of “measure life not in the number of breaths you take, but in the moments that take your breath away.” I understand why people like its flowery, feel-good message, but the quote has always bothered my pragmatic side.

Because life really isn’t about chasing down one breathless moment after another, is it? Maybe it’s more about accepting that those occasional experiences that leave us speechless and teary-eyed are more the punctuation to a good life than the bulk of it. It’s a lovely thing to feel that way occasionally, but the calm, the quiet, the comfortable laugh with a good friend – the ordinary – counts, too. 

I’m trying to remember that now as we ease back into real life and our trip becomes more and more distant in the rear-view mirror. And to remind myself, too, to try to see my unique “ordinary” through the fresh eyes of a visitor. 

Because no matter where you live or what you do, to somebody else, your ordinary may not seem so ordinary at all.

Thanks for spending your Sunday morning with me! If you’ve missed them, you can catch up on more Sunday Morning Tea posts right here.

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Jennifer L.W. Fink (@jlwf) May 18, 2014 at 1:20 pm

“More the punctuation to a good life than the bulk of it” <— I Love it!

Jenny

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Meagan Francis May 19, 2014 at 3:05 pm

Thanks Jenny!

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Sarah Powers May 18, 2014 at 2:21 pm

I have thought about this a lot at various times over the years, probably because I grew up in one of those idyllic places, as you know. Yes, Santa Barbara was and is surreal in many ways: I went to (public) school with movie stars’ kids. I never ate inside a cafeteria (no one did; school lunch was outside unless it rained and then we were in the classroom). Celebrity weddings happened routinely at the resorts five minutes from where I lived and went to school and took dance.

But like you point out, families thrived and struggled (yes, even the famous ones). Kids went to school and got kicked out of school. Carpool and prom and babysitting and birthday parties all happened. We didn’t have snow days or tornado warnings, but we had floods and fires and earthquake drills. As I became an older teenager, I fantasized about living in places that were TO ME totally different and exotic. Big cities, anywhere with rich American history that did not involve Spanish missionaries, places where the leaves changed color and it snowed on Christmas. I had a particular obsession with anyone who actually LIVED in Manhattan (okay, I still kinda do).

This is a long way of saying that, no matter where you live or come from, THIS – as you wrote – is so true:

It’s easy to glamorize life when you’re on the outside looking in. But people are people, no matter where you go. We all have worries and bills and boring days and most of us do, occasionally, experience bad weather.

And when I really pay attention, I know that my little corner of the world isn’t really so ordinary, either: it’s just that we know the scenery so well that we don’t always notice its unique beauty, like this view just a few blocks from my house.

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Meagan Francis May 19, 2014 at 3:09 pm

Sarah, remember when I texted you from Santa Barbara asking if any “normals” live there? LOL! It did feel so surreal while I was there, from the view to the architecture – I mean, when you mistake Chipotle for an exotic local restaurant you are obviously somewhere Different. But you know, I think about the little city where I grew up near Lake Superior, and how we all learned in school very young that the town had been settled by French fur traders in the early 1600s. It didn’t seem all that impressive at the time, LOL, but out west I am struck by how new everything seems and how exotic those hundreds of years of European history, not to mention the thousands of years of Native American history, could seem to somebody from a different area. Great perspective.

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Betsy May 18, 2014 at 2:21 pm

You are so right, my husband and I have moved a few times thinking it would make our lives happier, but life really is the same almost everywhere. We just need to focus on what we have right now to make us happy.

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Meagan Francis May 19, 2014 at 3:11 pm

Thanks Becky :) I have wanderlust and I doubt that our family will stay put forever – in fact, 6 years into our life here, it’s about as long as I’ve ever lived in any one place. I think moving can be a wonderful adventure, but I also need to keep in mind that you make your own happiness wherever you go. Your location can add to your happiness but it can’t “rescue” you from being unhappy.

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Caroline May 18, 2014 at 7:12 pm

Great post and just what I needed today!

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Meagan Francis May 19, 2014 at 3:11 pm

Glad to hear it Caroline!

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susie May 18, 2014 at 11:03 pm

Great post and reminder. We have a nice house and I have been wanting to move just so we can have some land…. I think I need to stay of instagram where I drool of homestead living, because it always looks so ideal. I have been on that road trip before and I think it is one of the prettiest in all of america!

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Meagan Francis May 19, 2014 at 3:16 pm

Susie, let me tell you about the year I was convinced we were going to live off the grid in a cob house and raise goats. Here’s the thing, I love goats, I think alternative building supplies are awesome and maybe one day I could actually pull this off! But at the time we were both launching businesses, had a house full of small children, and could barely find the energy to mow our own lawns :) It’s easy and fun to fantasize sometimes, but so tempting to see only the good side of the fantasy, not the nitty-gritty realities.

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whoorl May 19, 2014 at 9:33 am

“But the truth is, even people who live in the most beautiful locales or busiest cities in the world mostly live ordinary lives.”

Yes, yes, yes. Living in Newport Beach, I can absolutely attest to this. It’s so easy to take the world’s beauty for granted when you are in the thick of day-to-day life. Taking the time to celebrate life’s beautiful moments wherever you reside is what matters. :)

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Meagan Francis May 19, 2014 at 3:17 pm

And we all have those beautiful moments, don’t we? Thanks for stopping by, Sarah!

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Life Breath Present May 19, 2014 at 2:13 pm

Wow! How right you are that those breathtaking moments are the punctuation, rather than the journey. For without the journey, there are no resting places (punctuation), which fuel the journey to grow and continue on…learning, discovering, exploring, and being part of the ordinary :)

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Meagan Francis May 19, 2014 at 3:17 pm

Thank you! Love thinking of the punctuation as a resting place. :)

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Laila May 21, 2014 at 4:39 pm

I just happened to read this, near the end of a very slow, boring work day, and it almost made me cry. I had a realization a couple of months ago, that most of our lives is made up of the “mundane” stuff – grocery shopping, haircuts, laundry, work, errands, just your “average” day type of stuff. The really GREAT stuff – vacations, graduations, births, celebrations, concerts – and the really BAD stuff – illness, divorce, deaths, accidents – those are all much smaller parts of our lives. It’s up to us to embrace all the ordinary stuff in between, to learn how to celebrate it, be glad of it, and really LIVE in it. Reading this served as my daily reminder. Thank you.

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