Ordinary things are all around us. The very word hints at how mundane and uninteresting the ordinary can be. Yet, unless we are paying attention to the ordinary, we risk missing the extraordinary. 


One day last fall I sat watching the birds. As a fairly avid birder, birds in my backyard can easily capture my attention. On this day the flock of 50+ house sparrows caught my attention. As I watched the unusually large flock, I began to see other birds. Chickadees, a white-breasted nuthatch, blue jays, dark-eyed juncos, cardinals, a house finch, and a downy woodpecker completed the list of visitors.


As I watched, I was reminded of a conversation I overheard several years ago. A resident in a neighboring community had a large and very impressive garden. The garden was so impressive it won a national award. I was visiting on one of the few days the garden was open to the public. Another visitor asked why there weren’t any bird feeders in such a lovely garden. The owner noted he’d had some once. But all he ever saw were house sparrows who ate all the seed and left a mess in his garden.


When The Extraordinary Occurs


In the years since that visit, I’ve often thought about the owner’s comment. Surely there were more birds than sparrows. My own yard is much smaller and less diverse in its plants species. That hasn’t stopped me from seeing as many as 13 different species in just an hour. I’ve had more than 40 different species in my yard at one time or another. If I had not been paying attention to the common birds in my backyard, I would have missed those less common.


This is true of life as well. Rarely do we swoop into a situation, see something extraordinary and depart. Instead, we see a baby’s first steps, a magnificent sunrise, or an act of sacrificial love because we are present during the many ordinary moments. The extraordinary is so because we’ve seen and experienced the ordinary. We know the one because of seeing the other.


If life is about showing up, then my insight from the birds seems to be proof. When we show up, when we are present for the ordinary parts of life, we set ourselves up for the extraordinary experiences that are bound to occur.


This blog was originally posted in 2014.

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