“Little minds are interested in the extraordinary; great minds in the commonplace”
– Elbert Hubbard
Keys and clocks, flowers and lockets, these are but simple, ordinary, commonplace items. Yet why the fascination with them? Why do we pick the most ordinary things to imbue with the most fascinating traits? When J.R.R Tolkien wrote Lord of the Rings, he centered his story around a ring, a simple gold ring. And yet, around that one ring blossomed a story so intriguing it will remain a classic for ages to come. Or perhaps consider the story of Aladdin? There we find two special objects: a lamp and a carpet. Both in themselves can be seen as mere dust collectors, but add a drop of magic and they suddenly become wonders of our imagination.
Now as I stepped back and pondered these objects, I first considered the possibility that perhaps we only pick them because they provide us with a place to fill our intrigue and creativity; that in the pouring out of our ideas, we give shape to our passions and fancies.
Of course, one must not forget that the objects we pick do in fact possess roles in the commonplace which in turn play a part in our choosing of them. For instance, a key is meant to unlock something, and a mirror finds its importance in providing a reflection. Staircases lead to doors and doors open up to rooms. Now in and of themselves, these items do not mean much. However, the moment you add a pinch of the unbelievable into the picture, these things come alive with excitement. The mirror now reflects envied beauty; the stairs go on forever, and the glass slippers hold onto a frail promise of marriage and happiness.
It does not take much to think of such objects. In fact, come up with one and more will follow close behind. The reason for this I believe stems from nature's natural puzzle piece. These objects of interest, representing an ordinary task, quickly assemble themselves to their second mysterious half which is found in our hearts desires. We want to be told we are beautiful, so what better to tell us than a talking mirror. These fancies of ours are the key ingredients in history’s legends and stories. Look back into folk-lore and fairy tales and glimpse into their tragedies and happy endings. You’ll almost always find something special in the story: perhaps magical hair or a poisoned apple.
The more I consider it, the less I think these story’s objects only exist to provide a container for our mysteries. I think there is something more to it then that.
The answer I believe lies not in man’s need to find a fill-able hollow, but rather in his desire to turn the ordinary into the extraordinary. Within each of us lies a strand of something greater than the commonplace. That strand is intertwined around man’s very DNA. In fact one might even say it has been there from the beginning. This desire to be extraordinary extends out from our selves into the very stories we read to our children.
Most people read fiction and go to movies not only to have an enjoyable time; but also, on a deeper level, to pretend that they are part of the story; that they are the valiant hero or lucky maiden. Even villains are admired, hated of course, but admired nonetheless for their speciality. People want to be unique. It would not be too far of a stretch to say that they perhaps even want to be better.
Personally, I believe this need, this strand in us for the bigger and better, was woven into us from the very being. It was placed there by the greatest bigger and better there is: God. God is perfect; he is all that is good. But look around, look at the world; it is a mess and its contained creation has been contaminated. Why then should we be any more special than a key or a mirror? Why should our stained black features inspire any degree of admiration or respect? The answer is found in God. By ourselves, we are nothing more than ordinary. It is in Him in which we become loved by grace, and desired through mercy. It is in Him in which our common place beings become that of extraordinary. We are beings made in the image of a wonderful God. Now while much of our true selves has been lost to corruption and sin, we have retained the memory of something more; something bigger and better.
Now as we continue to read our stories of magical rings of power, or of a flowers juice that inspires love, may we remember but one thing: that the desire to make the common place something special comes from a desire not of our own. That as we look down on things below, may we take a glimpse upwards to the above, to God, who desires the same thing of ourselves: to make the imperfect, perfect; and the ordinary, extraordinary.
On an Ordinary Carpet in Richmond, B.C
January 6, 2011