The Illusion of Ordinary

Somewhere in an unimaginably vast vacuum, sparsely scattered with exploding fireballs, is one large rock in free fall. That’s your home.

Pale Blue Dot by Voyager 1, via Wikimedia Commons

Pale Blue Dot by Voyager 1, via Wikimedia Commons

You’re glued to this rock by a force called gravity that no one really understands. Inside your cells, molecules are pulled apart and forged together. Your heart remembers to beat all the time, pumping liquid inside you so that you can live. Inside your brain, electrons dance and allow your thoughts to become actions. And mystery of mysteries, you can comprehend all of this. You are sentient.

Every day, your heart beats, the Earth turns, and life goes on. You begin to feel at home in a strange world after a while, because your mind is just like the senses that feed into it—whatever doesn’t change goes unnoticed. Life feels less interesting and more ordinary.

Ordinary is an illusion.

Not only is it an illusion, it’s a harmful one. Only when we see objects and events for what they really are—strange and unusual—will we be interested enough to study them, to think about them, to write about them.

Here’s an exercise for your imagination. Remember when you were born? Neither do I. But you entered a new and strange world at that moment, and for all you knew, it could have been inconceivably unlike the world it turned out to be. Now, shut your eyes and try to pull yourself back to that moment before birth. You didn’t know about air, about language, about locomotion. All you knew was your mother’s heartbeat.

Once you’ve imagined all this, open your eyes and look at the world. Nothing is ordinary.


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