Ordinariness is not a vice. It has taken me most of my life to grasp that home truth, to recognize the sublime simplicity that what is ordinary is not inherently bad. It’s not even necessarily boring or predictable, though most of us treat it that way and make it so.
It occurred to me as, for the umpteenth time in my life, I was marveling at the biography of some outlandishly gifted famous creature and reflecting on the comparably slack bag of tricks that could be held to define me. No one, I thought, will ever have reason to pore over my biography, no, not even to write it. I never so much as kept a diary for more than a few brief delusional periods before being recalled to my senses and silence by the glaring absence of exotica to lure even its author to reread it, once written. What is the great magnetism of the larger-than-life character’s story, I wondered; why am I compelled to recount and savor the life stories of those who loom heroically or with great drama or grand style on the horizon?
And I realized my answer was a strange surprise: I am seeking my own reflection.
Doubtless wiser souls have spotted this long ago! But what a freeing moment, in a way, was the discovery that what I am always hunting is familiarity, commonality, a sense of communion with others. It’s glimpses of characteristics I can truly understand—my own—that make extraordinary people real and attractive to me.
If that’s so, then perhaps my own “universal” qualities, my being Jane Doe or Everywoman, cloak in the seemingly ordinary person that I am not only shared parts that other people would find familiar in that same compelling way but also distinctions they might find equally surprising, strange, dare I say it, impressive. In the rags-to-riches celebrity tales, it’s not entirely the thrilling alternate universe of that unfamiliar life of wealth I find titillating—that’s so often a short last chapter to the tale, revealing little of real mystery and glamor—it’s that someone who seemed as ordinary as me got there. The story of a brilliant achiever or fabulous saint is rarely of great interest unless that greatness is seen set in the contrasting frame of dimmer, plainer beginnings, the quieter greys of mortality and everyday being.
So who am I, if not merely the forgettable dust of common humanity? Perhaps I really am Jane Doe. I have no characteristics more notable or exciting than my DNA or fingerprints and dental records to separate me from billions of others on the teeming earth. No reason to complain; the great and grand, the famous and infamous, the rich and rare among humankind would have less grey to offset their glory without me, and that might be purpose enough.
But I am more. I realize that every Jane and John among us has a story, a single glittering spark of distinction that sets us apart from all others. It may be the peculiar combination of ordinary traits alone, which for the unrecorded life dies with it and may remain ineffable forever. It may be no more (though this is presumably the greatest trait one could aspire to have) than that I am loved. Or maybe, just maybe, I am more interesting than I guess, and looking at myself as a biographer should can reveal someone more impressive and worthy of note than I have heretofore imagined.