He’s an ordinary guy. Most people probably don’t notice him. He’s both polite and quiet. There’s nothing remarkable about his appearance or his manner. He’s the kind of person who blends in to the surroundings. Like most of us, he’s just an ordinary guy.
Now in his forties, he experiences himself as caught up into life’s complexities. He has a college education but not in anything that prepared him for the current job market. Not finding other work, he is a cashier at a neighborhood store. He likes helping the customers, but doesn’t find the other duties, like stocking shelves, to be particularly engaging.
He never married. He was in a relationship with a woman for the last five or six years. But for reasons he doesn’t understand, she broke it off. When he talked about he said, “She never told me why. I guess she had her reasons. But it hurts. I think she was bored with me.”
He works most weekends. That means he has free time when his small circle of friends are all working. He tries to find things to do on his days off and wants to develop new friends. But not much happens on Mondays and Tuesdays, even in a metropolitan area.
Meeting with me for spiritual direction, he wondered out loud: “I thought I would have a good life. I guess I don’t have a bad life, but it’s just not much of a life. I’m able to pay my bills. But I thought it would be different, that it would be better. I wonder if I’m just a loser.”
He continued, “I went to church when I was younger. I’d go now, but I work on Sundays. Anyway, they said God had a plan for my life. They talked about God’s will. Is this God’s plan for me? I know God loves me. I feel close to God when I go to the park for a walk. When I can, I go camping. I feel really in-tune with things when I’m out camping. Is the way my life turned out God’s will?”
It took courage for him to ask the questions. They’re very important questions to ask. As you’d imagine, it was difficult to sit with him because I knew I didn’t have answers to the questions. Essentially, the only answers that work are the ones he would come to for himself. My role was to just be a support as he faced life’s difficult questions.
Of course, I could step back from the situation and talk about the changes in the economy. There are many people who can’t find jobs that would be better for them. They end up working in the service industry for wages they can barely live on. Many need to receive public assistance just to make ends meet because minimum wage in the U.S. is so very low. This ordinary man was caught in that cycle. At this point in his life, he probably won’t be able to break out of the cycle.
Explaining the cycles of the economy or the injustice in the wage scale is of no help for him. Instead, I asked him to tell me about times recently when he felt most alive. He told me of a recent camping experience. He took a friend with him whose father had died a few weeks earlier. He spoke of how he listened to his friend and tried to help him find comfort in the mountains of North Georgia. He also spoke of helping an older woman in his apartment building with errands because her physical mobility is limited. He does her grocery shopping and a few other things. As he shared with me about those examples of feeling alive, he became more relaxed and animated.
I said that I wasn’t sure about this stuff about God’s will and I probably wouldn’t know it if it smacked me upside the head. However, I shared that I thought God was very present when he was with his friend camping and when he ran errands for an elderly neighbor. He smiled, nodded his head, and after a moment of silence said, “Yeah. You’re right. I really hadn’t thought about it that way.”
I then wanted to share some thoughts about work. I began by saying that many people think I have a job that’s always interesting because I’m a professor. I explained that I spent a great deal of my time reading and grading papers. No sooner do I get them done than there are more coming in to read. Most of the papers are a lot alike. There are times when teaching is exciting and it’s great to know that something I did helped someone grasp something new. But most days, it’s routine work. It’s just as routine as stocking shelves. It’s just a different routine.
I went on to tell him that I try not to focus much on the routines I find monotonous. Instead, I try to focus on the things that give me life. I try to savor what is life-giving for me. But to deal with the monotonous routines, I appreciate the discipline of spiritual practice. Spiritual practice helps to keep me focused and mindful in the present moment so that even the ordinary routines that are part of my life can have some depth.
What I hoped that I was able to convey to him is that thinking about life as being a winner or loser isn’t very helpful. There are times when we are all winners. There are also times when life is very ordinary. And, yes: there are times when life is very difficult for each and every one of us. Those aren’t measures of one’s life as a success or failure. Instead, what matters is whether we can live in a way that enables us to discover and hold onto something of the wonder and beauty of life. That most often happens when, in some way, we reach beyond ourselves and touch the life of another. That’s what he did when he went camping with his friend and picked up groceries for a neighbor.
He’s an ordinary guy. But what’s really important is that he is in the process of discovering some extraordinary things about life. I think he is beginning to understand that it’s a process that takes time, patience, and openness.
© 2013, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.