February 23, 2024
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The commonplace. There’s a lot to be said for it, I think.

By the way, if you do an internet search for “commonplace,” you may be surprised to find that, for more than a few centuries, a “commonplace book” or, simply, a “commonplace” was a book or notebook in which people wrote down and kept quotations, sayings, notes of all sorts, little bits of helpful knowledge, poems, recipes, measures, verses, and much more—stuff that just seemed useful to them and worth keeping handy.

Folks usually divided their notes by subject, topic, or use. Many “ordinary” people used such books, as did a great number of writers, scholars, etc. The commonplaces of some well-known folks were eventually published. Again, just look for this on the internet, and you may find the topic of “commonplaces” uncommonly interesting.

But, of course, when I write here about the “commonplace,” I’m thinking of what we might term the “ordinary,” the “run of the mill,” or maybe the “routine.”

Such moments add up. I think, for example, of sharing life with your spouse, the years cascading into decades and splashing into a vast ocean of moments—some heartwarming and joy-filled beyond description and some so poignant and even heartbreaking that your shared tears spilled into a waterfall of sorrow in which you both thought you might drown. But, sweet or bitter or, more often, just present as a gentle stream of trust—oh, there is meaning and mystery, strength and wisdom, that can only be found in such a far-flowing current of moments.

So much of what gives our journeys color and deep beauty are the gentle slow-moving streams and eddies along the way. A lifetime of cool pillows softly becoming warm. Of rich coffee and a comfortable chair. A fire in the hearth. A hand held and hair stroked. A glimpse of a sunrise, color-fired kindling lighting the sun on fire. A moon winking back as stars start popping out at sunset. A deep winter sky and a refreshing breath of crisply cold air. A child or grandchild’s hug and snuggle. A nice chair and a world beckoning you to enter through the pages of a book.

Enjoy. Thank God. Repeat.

Music is not music without some very ordinary silence between the notes. The silence matters. The ordinary filling the gaps between tones that, unbroken by silence, would become noise.

A well-written paragraph moves along doing its job quite nicely as the majority of the word-notes are clicked out in typewriter cadence. And then a pause or a few, at just the right places, and in a few sweet words, the writer lands the paragraph sweetly, or achingly, or with a grin and then a good-hearted explosion of laughter, any of which the author is willing to share. But the little words and spaces between them add up to make the word-crescendo work.

Little things and little words are not little at all. If we catch ourselves focusing just on the “big events” of life, just “busy-ness,” and, worse, just “business,” real life flits by in a wispy fog.

I hope we’ll slow down . . . and pause . . . and think . . . and thank God for weaving into our lives the sweet and often unnoticed moments and spaces where deep joy pools ever so quietly. It’s the gift of the commonplace. The quiet. The ordinary.

Extraordinary! No one whose eyes are open to that precious gift and whose soul is bathed and healed in it is in danger of living a superficial life, acting as if she’s found exactly the right glue to stick a résumé or spreadsheet onto a granite tombstone, or as if his particular crypt in the mausoleum will feature an executive office suite with a view—and maybe even a digital in-box where minions still breathing can send regular reports.

Come to think of it, maybe having a blank “commonplace book” in which we thoughtfully make actual note of some of the most beautiful commonplaces of our lives might be uncommonly good for us.

Curtis K. Shelburne


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