Ordinary People

Photo Credit: Nadya Spetnitskaya

Photo Credit: Nadya Spetnitskaya

The world has been deceived by a quiet little lie that someone has been stealthily whispering into our ears for decades. It’s a message so subtle it’s easily accepted without a struggle and has now all but been adopted as fact.

It’s a lie we even tell ourselves sometimes, out of laziness, apathy, self-pity, or a misguided attempt at humility. One way or another, we all know it’s true:

I am an ordinary person.

And ordinary people cannot change the world in any meaningful way, cannot make a real difference in the grand scheme of things, cannot leave behind a legacy that stretches beyond the confines of their own immediate family.

Those things are reserved for individuals who are special, brilliant, gifted in some way. They are the people who have something the rest of us don’t have. We’re just the common folk: ordinary people leading ordinary lives. The kind of lives that are often overlooked by the self-limiting assessments we use to define significance.

Do you know that you are special?

You. Yes, you. You are special.

When was the reality of this statement erased from our collective psyche? I think toddlers and young children understand its meaning better than anyone. Back in the eighties, I was right there with them.  

I grew up on Sesame Street, smack dab in the middle of Mr. Roger’s neighborhood, and I was told over and over by various muppets and puppets that I was special. Yes, me and every other kid in kindergarten, all tuned in to the same messages being pumped into our naive little ears.

We were all special, which defied and negated the meaning of the words. It became one of those watered-down throw-away phrases I had outgrown by middle school. Then at seventeen it was time to apply to college, and I was forced to revisit this long-forgotten theme.

Every application I submitted required a personal statement that would convince an admissions committee I was special enough to be deemed worthy of acceptance. After all, I wasn’t the only student out there with the numbers and letters they were looking for; I needed to write something that would differentiate me from all the other overachievers aiming for Ivy. I needed to prove I was special.

Unfortunately I had no story to tell, no statement to make. I had already bought into the lie: I was just another ordinary person. Born and raised in the obscurity of small-town suburban Ohio, comfortably positioned in the middle of a ho-hum middle-class family; I was literally the definition of white bread. I was “blandly conventional” in a world that was no longer impressed by a pre-sliced loaf.

Who wants plain white bread when there’s a smorgasbord of other options available? Whole wheat, sourdough, or rye. Pumpernickel, cinnamon raisin, or rosemary focaccia. A croissant, a pretzel bun, or even a bagel. I wanted to be anything other than white bread, but unfortunately, that’s all I was.

How could I write a compelling essay that would impress an admissions committee when I lacked the necessary ingredients to make myself anything other than flavorless?

In retrospect, it was a rather harsh assessment of something perfectly pleasant. I still prefer my sandwiches on white bread despite the fact that it has become the red-headed stepchild of the wheat-based food industry, the first victim of the low-carb gluten-free revolution running rampant in our grocery stores.

Bread has been a dietary staple for thousands of years, so it’s no wonder it makes so many appearances in the Bible, going all the way back to Genesis. In the book of John, Jesus famously identifies himself as the “bread of life,” and Christians the world over recognize these words as a reference to the Son of God.

On the surface, bread is the most ordinary thing in the world. Deceptively simple. It’s essentially composed of only four ingredients: flour, water, salt, and yeast.

My husband has recently taken up bread-baking as his latest weekend hobby, which I have learned involves two days worth of work and waiting, requires an unbelievable degree of precision, and leaves a big floury mess in the kitchen (the cleaning of which is my contribution to the endeavor).

It’s quite an active process: measuring, mixing, dusting, rolling, proofing, rising, punching, pulling, kneading, stretching, folding – and finally, finally, baking. This is not your average trip to the grocery store where, wonder of wonders, there’s the bread ready and waiting in aisle three for your immediate consumption.

But despite his best efforts to replicate the “perfect” loaf, they come out different every time, even when they’ve been made from the same batch of dough.

It turns out each lump of dough is a living, breathing thing. It’s susceptible to minor variances in time, temperature, and humidity.

But I think the most probable explanation for the differences is the hands of the baker.

Should you ever feel that you have become another nameless face in the crowd, go back to the fact that the Hands of the Creator molded you into being. Each of us has been lovingly formed by a God of infinite imagination.

Ordinary does not exist in the eyes of God. Every individual He creates is perfectly unique, and you are special.

For you formed my inmost being.
You knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I will give thanks to you,
   for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

Psalm 139: 13-14