A pile of ordinary seashells. I’ve been collecting them for almost 40 years. Southern California beaches aren’t known for beautiful seashells, but as a young girl it didn’t matter how ordinary they were – to a child from Colorado they were treasures, beautiful little miracles totally unlike anything I’d seen at home.
Extraordinary ordinary shells. The experience of walking, looking, bending, holding, examining, wondering about these shells became my greatest pleasure on our annual trips to the ocean, and it never lost its charm. I still find myself examining these ordinary shells with a wonder that makes them extraordinary to me.
Yes, they are similar and there may be hundreds of them strewn across the sand. But if you really look closely no two are the same. Each has slightly different markings, color, chips, scuffs, symmetry and irregularity. The more you look the more you find as each shell becomes something to marvel at.
People are like this. We come in different shapes, sizes and colors, yet we are so like one another. Most of us are simply ordinary people living ordinary lives, spending much of our time doing ordinary things. And yet we’re not. If time is taken to examine any one of us we will find an extraordinary story just waiting to be heard, an extraordinary person hoping to be loved. We find that we are unique and of infinite worth. We are extraordinary ordinary people.
My shell collection over the years has expanded to include larger, more exotic shells I purchased and enjoy displaying during summer months. They are beautiful and unique as well, but somehow it’s the common shells that really capture my heart.
I’ve kept them on my kitchen table all summer, a reminder that people matter, that everyday moments matter, that the ordinary is extraordinary, that I’ve got to keep my eyes open so I don’t miss the simple beauties of family life, so I can see people for who they really are.
Our world feels so torn up right now: natural disasters, sickening reports in the news, so much suffering and death and loneliness, disagreement among decent people about how to fix it all. I worry that in the tension and stress of everything we may forget that the ordinary person on the other end of the interaction is more like us than different, someone worth getting to know, someone whose story and perspective matters. My shells are all just that: simple shells, but each made their own journey to the beach. We are simple people, each on our own journey through life. The journey matters. We matter.
My family and I received a gift of mercy recently at the hands of two ordinary people who began as strangers, but a few hours later were people I’ll never forget. The string of very simple things they did, motivated by a sincere desire to understand and do the right thing – to be good – became a powerful act of kindness and mercy. I’ll never forget it. We all have power to do this in our individual sphere of influence.
We are extraordinary ordinary people.
Today I re-dedicate myself to living in a way that honors this truth. I commit to love my family, to love and serve my neighbor, to see the good in others, to be kind to a stranger. My prayer is that my simple efforts can help infuse the world with a little more goodness and love. Will you join me?