Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Ordinary Life

I was afraid of living an ordinary life, and I realized that’s what we all get. We all get an ordinary life. And it’s good enough.  ~ Garrison Keillor

Recently, my husband and I finally got around to listening to a PBS special we had TiVoed some time ago, "Garrison Keillor: Man on the Road in the Red Shoes."

Even if you’re not already a fan of A Prairie Home Companion, this is a slice of Americana you won’t want to miss, especially if you’re an American, a reader, a writer, or an old radio lover. As all four, it hit a home run out of the ballpark with me …

… but Garrison’s closing punch line about the ordinary life stuck in my craw, demanding I digest the contents and share any emotional/spiritual nutrition I derived. That quote is turning out to be one of those health food drinks with a shelf full of vitamin additives.

I never saw myself as ordinary, nor do others see me that way. I definitely don’t see Garrison Keillor as ordinary, and I’m sure most other people don’t either. So, my question to me—now to you is: Just who are you on the continuum of ordinary to unique? Why does “owning” both of these seemingly opposite designations matter?

Ordinary Dilemma

A deep truth struck me in the moment I heard Garrison say this. The ordinary life is what we get for starters—but in order to express extraordinary skills and talents, there are often huge impacts on the ordinary life—a big price to pay. That is, until we can learn to hold both of them at once, which we must, each in our own style and way. This is what it takes to achieve balance and happiness.

We doubt this balancing act is possible, yet many celebrities model this achievement for us every day. President Obama talks about how one of the benefits of his job is the ability to have dinner with his kids most nights, something he often could not do as a Senator. Certain stars leap immediately to mind as putting family first. Bon Jovi, a true family man, attends his kids’ parent-teacher meetings, just like any other mere mortal. Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick alternate working, so there’s always one parent who is primarily at home. You probably know dozens more examples.

I have always sensed that I could never achieve my ultimate success unless or until I had a grounded, happy home life. Now that I have it, I sometimes fear that I sabotage how far I can go, because I am afraid of losing my warm nest and grounded routine. These are the very things that nurture me down to my toes and up through my soul. They give me the springboard for going out into the world and doing great things.

Yet, I am still sometimes afraid to leap. I do not want to lose the ordinary things I treasure: my husband’s warm hugs and teasing (alternating between endearing and annoying), kitty whiskers rubbing my face, watching our ritual mystery movie on Saturday nights, getting the mail, or our teamwork on gathering and putting out the garbage one night a week. While some of these things sound boring, they are also the stepping-stones that mark our days and help them feel solid. Breaking out of this routine sometimes feels like throwing off the down comforter on a freezing cold winter morning and forcing myself into the shivering dawn and discomfort for no good reason.

Hints from the Other Kind of Stars

Astrology has helped me understand this dilemma. It offers several planetary and mythical metaphors to help all of us sort out and blend our internal mix of ordinary to extraordinary parts of ourselves.

Saturn represents foundations, structure, and responsibility, as well as wisdom and being grounded. Permanence and self-sacrifice are also its domain, all together, the stuff that solid daily life is made of—or any long-lasting “institution.” However, if that were the entire substance, marriage and/or the family and home life would drive many of us crazy enough to belong in an institution of another kind.

Uranus, on the other hand, represents the opposite archetype—originality, uniqueness, the unexpected, freedom and independence. You can probably sense right this minute whether you’re more Saturnian or Uranian. I thought I started out more Saturnian and grew more Uranian, especially when I moved to The Left Coast in 1973 at the height of the counterculture movement. On viewing my first wedding photos, more than one person has said I looked like “a hippie princess” in my old-fashioned muslin dress and crown of wildflowers. By contrast, back when I was growing up in the 1950s, I thought I was Happy Days typical. I’ve been stunned, quite honestly, to have many people tell me I was “a free spirit” from a very early age. So, when you’re mulling over where you start on the Saturn/Uranus symbol curve, you might also want to get a second opinion from those who have known you for a long time.

Chiron is my astrological specialty, the composite planetoid/comet called a centaur, just like the mythical half-horse, half-human character after which it is named. Chiron is an integrating energy that turns our wounds into blessings, our handicaps into our vocation, and asks us to make lemonade out of lemons. Just as mythical Chiron groomed many famous heroes like Jason of the Argonauts, the powerful Hercules, and Asclepius, the Father of Medicine: Chiron asks us to bring out the best in ourselves by resolving opposites within us. How do you like this metaphor? Chiron is located in space between Saturn and Uranus and acts like a bridging function between the two planets and what they symbolize.

Roots and Wings

There’s a wonderful saying I love:

Two great things you can give your children: one is roots, the other is wings. ~ Hodding Carter

(I’ve also heard it attributed to the famous inventor of the polio vaccine, Jonas Salk. You can tell it’s a great quote if people argue about who said it first.)

I think this never stops being true; adults need roots and wings as much as they did as children. When either of those forces becomes too overdone, the other energy demands reckoning.

I agree with Garrison Keillor that the ordinary life is a gift we all receive. If I were forced to choose one or the other, I’d have to take the ordinary life, even though the free spirit in me would begin to wither and die without expression.

From Either/Or to Both/And

Fortunately, we are not forced to choose. But this is something we often have to discover for ourselves. It reminds me of the game my parents played with me as a child. Little did they realize how potentially damaging it could have been to my sensitive psyche. “Who do you love best, Mommy or Daddy?” If I said Mommy, Daddy would pretend to cry. Vice-versa if I said Daddy. Asking children or adults to choose between roots and wings would be like asking them to pick Mommy or Daddy when they need both.

We are actually charged with integrating the opposites within us, including roots and wings. Chiron—and life itself—teaches us that joy exists in finding out where we are on a continuum. Everyone has this charge. The baby boomer generation perhaps has had the most stark life experience with it. Boomers grew up in the Ozzie and Harriet ‘50s only to have those ideals blown away as irrelevant, as we reached young adulthood in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Somewhere, we had to figure out where we fit between Doris Day and Janis Joplin.

Personally, I think the deeper our roots, the higher we can fly. We just have to be willing to face that initial discomfort of coming out from under our warm, down comforter on a freezing winter morning.


Photo credit: © Dolnikov |

Want to learn more about Chiron and astrology? Joyce's new e-book is beginner-friendly and full of hints on how to turn lemons into lemonade, contribute your special gifts (vocation), and achieve fulfillment. Read more and/or purchase Chiron and Wholeness: A Primer on The Radical Virgo.


Eileen Williams said...

As always, you have got me to thinking about my life from a fresh perspective. And I love how you pull the stars into the roots and wings we all wish to achieve. From knowing you, I'd say you've developed both sides quite nicely and, don't worry, you are not living an ordinary life by any means. You, my friend, are truly extraordinary as a highly creative and spiritual person.

Joyce Mason said...

What a beautiful thing to say. Thank you, Eileen. I really love where Garrison Keillor's quote took me. It distilled some of my learning for me so I could share it with others.