There is something so centering and grounding about the beach. I needed that sort of energy after a busy, overscheduled long weekend, so I loaded my boys up and slogged down to the beach, buckets, shovels, snacks and towels in tow. We went on a long walk, the three of us, me and my two boys. The water was kicked up, big waves crashing in constant motion. We had to yell to one another over the sound as I walked and they scampered along in front of me in a hurry to search for treasure. An ordinary day at the beach with two little boys.
They kept handing me shells, as they do, little treasures they are so proud to present. The shells were the white scallop shells that blanket the beach, no exquisite shape or color, nothing unique. They were simple, plain, ordinary. My little one held out his closed fist with a huge smile and eyebrows raised in anticipation, only to present me with a broken fragment of one of these common, plain scallop shells. My older son eagerly handed me a few that were mostly whole, having learned enough about what the world says is valuable in his five years. I found myself clutching a handful of broken and, at best, ordinary seashells, and it suddenly occurred to me. These really are the treasures in life, these blessings found hidden in the ordinary.
This ordinary day at the beach with my healthy, happy children, searching for ordinary shells, taking in the sounds and the colors and the textures of the ocean is the most extraordinary, ordinary gift. How often I overlook the gift right there in the ordinary, focusing instead on the challenges of the day. All I have to do is consider the alternative and everything takes its proper place in perspective. Hold my ordinary day up to tragedy, and that ordinary day becomes the one thing the heart yearns for most. Sudden loss of a loved one, serious illness, war, accidents—tragedy and heartbreaking change can happen in an instant, changing our lives forever.
I sometimes get caught up in the myth that life is better over there, the grass is greener, so to speak, wanting it to be a bit more sparkly, a bit more magical. But I’m comparing my ordinary to the wrong extraordinary. We yearn for better, for more, more, more, forgetting that what we already have is extraordinary, especially when held up to tragedy, suffering, and loss. I forget or become complacent about this truth. How quickly it all could change. I’m forgetting how extraordinarily difficult and heartbreaking life can be.
I think of a mother sitting beside her child’s bed at St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, and how she would trade anything for an ordinary day like that, with healthy children and fresh air, a day that is commonplace and ordinary in my life. In that instant I am humbled. I am grateful.
To embrace and seek the beauty in the ordinary is a daily opportunity to find contentment, peace, gratitude, joy. It’s all right there in the ordinary day. I just so often can’t see it through the mundane complaints, the negativity, or the distractions. That’s the practice then, to consider the alternative. Any complaint I had about having to carry all the towels, and all the toys, and all the snacks, and also the three-year-old all the way from the car to the water’s edge just seem to wither up and float away. Instead, I am grateful for my healthy, active boys, the ordinary seashell treasures given with such innocent joy, the warm sand, the sound of the waves.
My prayer for myself and for anyone else who may feel complacent or even get sucked into that bottomless pit of everyday complaints is to consider the alternative. May I fill up with gratitude for the extraordinary ordinary overflowing right in front of me, and I wish the same for you. Those plain little shells, completely ordinary in every way, are exquisite little gifts. They perfectly represent the simple, unassuming beauty resting quietly and contently in the ordinary. My heart is full. I am blessed. I know this. And yet I forget. Lord, help me to remember.