Book Review: The Gift of an Ordinary Day

Book Review: The Gift of an Ordinary Day

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I resonated with this book for a lot of reasons. Like the author, I’m a mother with teenage kids going through the process of leaving home, who not only wants the best for them, but sees her own role starkly changing as well. Like the author, I’m striving to mindfully embrace that, while loving the parenting journey, even with all its challenges. Like the author I’m intent on the preciousness of each moment and the importance and richness in everyday life. Like the author emerging from first hand parenting, I’m striving to trust that there will be meaning in the next phase of my life, whatever it may hold. The fact that I could have written any of these favorite bits from the book quoted below in blue, may bias me toward giving this book five stars.

I really liked this book and recommend it, particularly to mothers, and if you are not a mother, than I bet you know one that you give gifts to! I found out about this book on my friend Christine’s excellent blog (click here for her full review.) Her review piqued my interest which began with the fact that I was already interested, having loved Katrina Kenison’s earlier book, Mitten Strings for God.

This new book is not only about empty nesting, but is also about a precipitous move and what it means to build a home. At a similar stage to the author, I advocated a move to Wyoming; I hoped for a beautiful vista out of life, but was out voted and we have stayed put in the home that all three of our children were infants in. Watching what the author has gone through, I can say that all that same spiritual growth has gone on by staying put as well! It just cannot be avoided, I guess, although she has moved past all her clutter and I’m still at work on mine. I appreciate the quiet, streamlined, outdoor aligned life she has achieved and it encourages me to keep working toward that where I am. Wherever you are, home building and spiritual growth are ongoing.

I applaud this author for her unvarnished sharing of her intimate life as a parent and woman broaching mid-life. Her voice unfurls as the memoir strikes recurring chords of love, awareness and gratitude. Acceptance and surrender has been less piercing for me in some ways, but I have three instead of two and still have two at home. None the less, this memoir helps by showing the reader that they are not alone in this after all, and that it is a common strain, only one not often sung. This author sings it well, and is worth listening to. She uses the word mellifluous, after all, which describes the tone of her hard won message well. She’s found her voice as I’ve found mine; our children are finding theirs as well. Buy the book, but meanwhile enjoy some of my favorite bits below:

“…real education is not just a simple transfer of information, not a competition, but a gradual and sometimes unfathomable process of awakening compassion, deepening understanding, and fostering development of imagination, curiosity and will. Learning well doesn’t always mean scoring high. It also means acquiring the tools necessary to take on the most challenging work of all – becoming the person you were meant to be.”

“As essayist Anna Quindlen has suggested, perhaps our whole concept of success needs to be redefined by ‘satisfaction of the spirit, rather than power of the resume.’ It may well be that success lies as much in our ability to behold the world before us in gratitude and wonder as it does in owning things and doing things. And it may be, too, that happiness really is a state of mind we choose for ourselves, a way of being that we cultivate from one moment to the next, rather than the result of realizing our ambitions or acquiring whatever it is we think we most desire.”

“It’s easy given the times we live in and the implicit messages we absorb each day, to equate the good life with having a lot and doing a lot. …we find ourselves surprised by delight at the ordinary moments and the modest pleasures of everyday life. Surprised, too, to find happiness hasn’t much to do with perfect surroundings, with having or doing a lot. It comes with living simply, taking care of one another, allowing time in the day for ease and pleasure and play.”

“It was [Joseph] Campbell’s belief that our real work in this world is to achieve integrity between what we believe and how we live. ‘The privilege of a lifetime,’ he wrote,‘is being who you are.’”

“‘You’re responsible for the wanting and the clarity,’ she said to me once… ‘The universe is responsible for the rest!’”

“…live simply, be in the moment, build memories, stay close.”

“Real life isn’t out there in the future somewhere…. Real life is now… Real life is just where we are in this moment… …begin to see that stepping up to one’s life adventure doesn’t necessarily mean doing extraordinary things. It also means coming to understand that viewed in the right light, through the right eyes, everything is extraordinary.”

“A door closed, yet her life has surely deepened and widened, allowing her as the Quakers say, ‘to proceed as way opens.’”

“No picture, or home video, or diary entry can begin to capture the nubbly texture, subtle tones, and secret shades of a family’s life as it is from one hour, or day, or season, to the next. It has taken a while, but I know it now – the most wonderful gift we had, the gift I’ve finally learned to cherish above all else, was the gift of all those perfectly ordinary days.”

“Every time I’m able to let go even a little – of control or judgement, of my need to be right or my inclination to worry – I’m rewarded. Life suddenly seems a bit sweeter, and easier for us all. My sons relax, we find humor in the moment instead of the urge to redraw our old battle lines, and I am reminded once again that a simple change in focus can improve the tone of a day. If motherhood has taught me anything, it is that I cannot change my children, I can only change myself.”

“‘Your children are not your children,’ writes poet Kahlil Gibran. ‘They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They came through you but not from you and though they are with you yet they belong not to you.’”

“When we focus on what is good and beautiful in someone, whether or not we think they may ‘deserve’ it, the good and beautiful are strengthened merely by the light of our attention.”

“There is, I remind myself, no more direct pathway to peace, no simpler way to encounter beauty, no better way of slowing down, than to try to practice devotion right where I am, doing each day’s tasks as they come and building a life around what is already here.”

“Narrow your focus and start where you are. Take a good close look at what’s right in front of you, and then set to work from there, using what’s already at hand. …the key to any sustainable system is to be realistic about what you have to work with, and then figure out how to use everything positively. …accept whatever’s offered in the present moment rather than turning away or trying to shape it into something else.”

“Slow down and pay attention… before its too late.”

“This… is what I’ve wanted all along: to be more attentive, to honor the flow of days, the passing of time, the richness of everyday life.”

“The truth is, we can’t keep our children safe, all we can do is love them, teach them as best we can, and then trust their destinies as they embark on their own necessary journeys, out beyond the sheltered shores of childhood.”

“…what I feel is like the opposite of loneliness, but rather a kind of deep acceptance, a sense of the intimacy and interconnectedness of all creation.”

“The irony, of course, is that every moment of our togetherness contains the seeds of a farewell…”

“But it also seems important, at this vulnerable moment, that he be reminded that what will matter in the long run is not where he goes to college, but what he does when he gets there, that the quality of the education he receives will be determined by him and not by the exclusivity or competitiveness of the school he attends.”

“What I want my son to understand… is that we’re already proud of him, that we don’t have to wait for an acceptance letter to land in the mailbox before we celebrate.”

“It is so easy, living with teenagers, to confuse life with performance, and busyness with meaning.”

“A close relationship with myself requires slowness. Intimacy with my husband and guarded teenage sons requires slowness. A good conversation can’t be hurried, it needs time in which to meander its way to revelation and insight. Even cooking dinner with care and attention is slow work. A thoughtful life is not rushed.”

“Living through the twists and turns of these years, we have learned to make some kind of peace with ambiguity.”

“…perfection is nowhere, and everywhere. Which is really the same as acknowledging that whatever we seek, if it exists at all, is already within us.”

“…we found it easier to get rid of stuff than to shoulder the weight of it…”

“Love… is the only thing I need to hold on to… On everything else: Ease up.”

“The art of stretching time, it seems, is about moving even more deeply into the presence.”

“The prickling silence of a suddenly empty house.”

“The work my friends do now that their children are grown is indisputably the work of mothers, of women whose passionate maternal energies, no longer required at home, are lovingly offered up to the world instead…. The work my friends seem compelled to undertake in their forties and fifties is no longer what they think they should do. It is what they feel in their deepest souls, that they are meant to do.”

“Why rush the passing of time? Why long for a future that can’t be foretold, only to miss the muddy magnificence of now?”

“‘Mend the part of the world that is within your reach.’”

I work to amplify good wherever I find it. I love color, texture, beauty, great ideas, nature, metaphor, deliciousness, genuine spirituality, and exploring new territory. I encourage authenticity, nurture creativity, champion sustainability, promote peace, and hope to foster a new renaissance where we all are free to be our most fulfilled, multifaceted, and terrific selves. Read more here.

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