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September 11, 2003

Life is a matter of having good days. We conclude a day of quoting others by quoting John Scalzi.
When you’re younger, you yearn for the extraordinary because you don’t understand the value of the ordinary, of days when all you do is live and spend your time with those you love and eat and sleep and have the horizon of your consciousness end at the line of your lawn. Then the extraordinary happens and you understand, and every ordinary day you have after that you have a moment—sometimes just a second or even a flash—where you thank whoever or whatever you might believe in that today was an ordinary day.

We live in extraordinary times, and we are not beyond them yet. Other generations in other times have had their extraordinary times or will have them to come. These timesa0call us to do more than we thought we could and we find a way to do them, toa0fill our days again with the ordinary, which we value, as they say, at a price beyond rubies. In these extraordinary times, two years on from an extraordinary day,a0I had a beautiful, ordinary day, with a bottomless blue sky.

I do not take it lightly. I am glad for it. I hope for many more ordinary days to come.

[11:22 PM]
Welcome to Electrolite's comments section.
Hard-Hitting Moderator: Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

Comments on Life is a matter of having good days.:

LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2003, 11:38 AM:

That is lovely. Thanks for passing it along, Patrick.


Kris Hasson-Jones ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2003, 02:49 PM:

Amen. I yearn for the ordinary, to deal with only the usual stuff.

David Leonhardt ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2003, 11:07 PM:

So true. THis is indeed one of the keys to happiness. I wrote a recent column about this topic, and I'll be emailing a copy of it directly to you, patrick, but I wanted for all to see that I think you hit the nail on the head.

David (The Happy Guy)

Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2003, 08:34 AM:

While I think the absence of active disaster is indeed an important part of a contented happiness, I don't find myself comfortable with 'ordinary days'.

The world is full of fierce joys, splendors sharply limned, sudden intoxicating thoughts, slow glories, and gentle awe, many of which require something between a practiced openness and an active willingness to perceive.

That one does not -- as I surely do not -- wish to have events in one's daily life that are grimmer than the fate of angels, that predictable and familiar courses of comfortable events are reassuring, that the knowledge of being settled and secure is needful to contentment, these things are all very true, but I should not comfortably say that someone whose extraordinary times were all trauma was happy, even so.

John Scalzi ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2003, 10:17 AM:

"The world is full of fierce joys, splendors sharply limned, sudden intoxicating thoughts, slow glories, and gentle awe, many of which require something between a practiced openness and an active willingness to perceive."

I don't understand why you don't believe these can be part of one's ordinary day.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2003, 10:25 AM:

What John said. Maybe it's just matter of nuance, but Graydon's post made me scratch my head.

Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2003, 02:06 PM:

I think I understood Graydon. Ordinary has the implication of routine, and falling into a routine usually interferes with a "practiced openness and a willingness to perceive." I've always thought that to find fierce joys and sharp splendors, one had to be willing to risk one's contentment, and even happiness. I think that, too often, we overlook the fierce joys of daily life -- the startling beauty of the morning, the brilliant joy of being with one's beloved, the sudden illumination of learning a new thing. We do take them for granted. The openness that is needed to experience them, though, is the same openness that leaves one vulnerable to the sharp heart-aches of the world.

LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2003, 07:35 PM:

I often refer to it as the miracle of the commonplace.


Claire ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2003, 09:49 PM:

Ooh. "Miracle of the commonplace". Thank you, Laura. I think that is going to become one of my mantras.

We spend so much of our lives trying not to get yelled at. Really. And we think we can't carve out the time to think. To reason. To go into the park and throw nuts at the squirrels.

I lost my parents young. Because of this there isn't a day that goes by that I don't tell the people that I love that I love them. They think I'm silly and they indulge me. But I know that you never know when that beer truck is going to hit you (silly story). And because I lost them so early I do like the little things. And moreso in the last few years...

Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2003, 12:23 AM:

Claire, I used to know a woman named Stacy, and Stacy ended every phone conversation she ever had with her family and friends by saying "I love you."

I know this because she sat right across from me in the office. I believe that habit was some comfort to her near and dear when that office was smashed, burned, and crushed with her (but not me) inside; the last thing she'd said to any of them was a declaration of love.

LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2003, 12:24 PM:

You're welcome, Claire.

It's startling how transformational great loss can be. We don't like to dwell on it, but when it hits you in the face, to me it really is miraculous how people are able to take horror and mold joy.

I have a friend who does hospice care. Occasionally her clients are young people or people with young children on their way out of this world, and she says the only way she can cope with that pain is to relish each day, treasure her own loved ones, and speak up for her beliefs. The experience has made an activist out of her, in all the good ways.


Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2003, 09:12 PM:

"Before englightenment, chop wood, carry water. After englightenment, chop wood, carry water."

...and does anyone know who first said that, or even if its source is truly Buddhist?

Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2003, 12:33 AM:

I'm really not sure Randolph, as the only citiations I can find for claim it was said by a Wu Li, usually referred to as a Zen master. Aside from Gary Zukav's book, the only Wu Li I can identify so far is a late 17th and early 18 century Chinese painter and poet, who ended up becoming a Jesuit.

Anyone else?

Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2003, 02:32 AM:

The fact is, when really good things happen, it can be just as stressful, if not more so, than when bad things happen. So perhaps what you're celebrating is days without a lot of stress. And there I heartily concur. A simple, ordinary day when nothing special happens can be a real pleasure.

Alan Bostick ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2003, 11:44 AM:

Claude and Randolph: I usually see it attributed as a "zen saying".

I'm inclined to doubt the authenticity of an attribution to a zen master named Wu Li. Zen being Japanese, a zen master named "Wu Li" is only slightly more likely then a zen master named "Alan Watts".

Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2003, 12:59 PM:

A simple, ordinary day when nothing special happens can be a real pleasure.

I heartily concur. A long chain of them can be a drag, though.

You can get sick of even your favorite food.

CMuncey ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2003, 02:45 PM:

Quite right, Alan, that's why I had my doubts.

That's also the problem with "Zen". Yep, it's Japanese, but it is a part of a familiy of schools of Buddism that include numerous Japanese, Chinese, and Vietnamese branches (see here for a neat chart of them -- I'm a sucker for those kinds of diagrams). I just don't know a better name for it and "Zen" has stuck here in the US in a way that "Ch'an" never has.

Anonymous ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2003, 06:31 PM:

Sounds like the kind of sense of the worth of life that one has when one is in love.

I'm posting anonymously because I no longer am, I remember what it feels like, and the lack hurts badly.

LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2003, 09:40 PM:

Anonymous, I think you pegged it. It is that sense of all things being illuminated. Somehow glorious, just because they are.

(And, if you'll allow me, fellow feeling on the loss of a love.)