When we consider this within the expanse of time, it is a relatively new phenomenon. For generations, life was shaped by survival and perseverance, seasons and hours, shelter and sustenance, tribe and family. Ordinary life took precedence. And somehow, in the midst of such, extraordinary lives were lived.
A few examples from the stories I reimagine and retell?
- Hagar: a slave who was forced to bear the child of the man who owned her, she was then banished to the desert with her young son, Ishmael. He became the patriarch of Islam.
- The Midwives: two Egyptian women who birthed the babies of Israelite women, they were ordered by the Pharaoh to kill all newborn boys. They did no such thing. One child spared was Moses who freed the Israelite people from slavery.
- Mary: an engaged girl trying to make sense of an unexpected pregnancy became the mother of Jesus.
How about these?
Andrée de Jongh saved hundreds of Allied airmen escaping from the Nazis, and Freddie and Truus Oversteegen spent their teenage years luring Nazis to their death by seducing them. Frances Perkins was the first woman to serve on the US Cabinet. Aung San Suu Kyi spent fifteen years on house arrest in the name of non-violence and democracy. Roberta “Bobbi” Gibb ran in the Boston Marathon after being rejected because she was a woman. Amani Al-Khatahtbeh started a pioneering publication by and for Muslim women. Rosalind Franklin discovered the double helix structure of DNA. Sybil Ludington rode twice as far as Paul Revere to warn about the British. Mary McLeod Bethune served on FDR’s “Black Cabinet” working as an activist for education and civil rights. Lee Miller spent years photographing all the heroic women of World War II. Gertrude Bell was a legendary explorer who helped establish modern day Iraq. [Source]
In her book Hidden Figures, Margot Lee Shetterly tells the true story of three black female mathematicians at NASA whose calculations helped fuel some of America’s greatest achievements in space. In an interview, she said:
History is the sum total of what all of us do on a daily basis. We think of capital “H” history as being these huge figures—George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and Martin Luther King. Even so, you go to bed at night, you wake up the next morning, and then yesterday is history. These small actions in some ways are more important or certainly as important as the individual actions by these towering figures.
Generations of women have gone to bed at night and woken up the next morning. They have birthed life into the world in every form. They have sustained and saved life in infinite ways. They have survived life itself. Each of these are “certainly as important as the individual actions by towering figures.”
Ordinary women cannot help but live extraordinary lives.
I’m certain you have stories of your own:
- When you say no to anything that compromises you or others.
- When you choose courage over compliance.
- When you risk everything on behalf of what you know to be right and true.
- When you refuse to let your boundaries be breached yet again.
- When you love who you love—regardless of laws or opinions.
- When you do the hard and ongoing work of acknowledging your own internalized racism.
- When you demonstrate, lobby, and vote on behalf of women’s right to their own bodies, their very choices.
- When you speak up in a meeting at work even though doing so goes against the grain.
- When you refuse to internalize patriarchal messages that intentionally have you doubting whether or not you are enough.
- When you do not believe the overculture that says you only matter when you are young and beautiful (and that we must endlessly strive toward and purchase such).
- When you stand humbly alongside other women who have known harm, violence, bigotry, and bias that few of us can begin to imagine.
- When you refuse relationships that require your silence or perpetuate your shame.
It is in living an ordinary life that YOU are extraordinary.
Not because you try. But because you survive and persevere and “be” – day-in, day-out. Good and bad. Easy and hard. Joyful and excruciating. Wins and losses. Gifts and hassles. People and places. Normal, everyday, ordinary.
Nothing more. And certainly nothing less.
If, in the mix of all that you write a book, or stand on a stage, or build a successful business, or raise a family, or get a promotion, or take a demotion, or make your mortgage payments, or crochet an afghan, or nurture a garden, or (fill in the blank), it will be because you have – in obvious and ordinary ways – taken the next step, done the next thing, walked through the next door, lived through the next day. NOT because you have pushed and prodded and persuaded yourself to be more amazing and incredible than you already are.
You being you is extraordinary.
Last week, in one of Jena Schwartz’s beautiful posts, she included this quote from Anna Quindlen:
“The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.”
That same wisdom could be stated this way, as well: The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being extraordinary and *just* being you. Because, after all, you being you is extraordinary!
May it be so.