“We must overcome the notion that we must be regular… it robs you of the chance to be extraordinary and leads you to the mediocre.” –Uta Hagen
Merriam-Webster defines ‘extraordinary’ as “going beyond what is usual, regular or customary”. The usual life of going to work, raising the kids, counting the days to retirement when one can do what one really wants, strikes me as incredibly limiting. The regular lives we live as humans in western society are soul-stunting. We need to challenge ourselves on a daily basis to go outside the box, to live over the edge of what is comfortable and customary, in order to be fully alive.
I have always thought of ‘extraordinary’ in terms of large, grand gestures like traveling to India to taste the cuisines of all 29 Indian states (a dream of mine). However, my idea is remarkably limiting. During a solo 3-week road trip this summer, it became evident that the extraordinary can be found not only in the grand, but in the minutae of daily life, in the smallest of actions. Living an extraordinary life does not necessarily mean leaving home. While for me going far outside the box, traveling and experiencing the new, is essential to my well-being, it is not so for many people. My life pales in comparison to many, making me strive to be a better person. I would like you to meet a few people. I feel a great deal of love for these four people, not just because of who they are, but who they make me want to become. There are only so many mornings left for me to greet, and it is my full intention to live an extraordinary life in the next 30 or 40 years.
Virginia is one of my oldest and dearest friends. She and I were best buds in high school back in the 1970s, and I rented my first apartment from her mother in the basement of their house in New York in the mid 1980s. The love I feel for Virginia is deep and familial. Virginia is a cancer survivor. In November of last year, she was declared officially cancer free. It is not her survival that makes her remarkable, but, rather, her attitude toward her illness. In typical Brooklyn Italian style, she grabbed cancer by the horns, looked it full in the face, said, “not on MY watch,” and fought with everything she had to rid her body of it. In addition to the traditional allopathic treatments of surgery, chemo and radiation, she researched the effects of nutrition and exercise on cancer, and changed her life accordingly. She lived with joy and hope, not stopping to feel sorry for herself, not dwelling on “Why me?” She continued to play, to laugh, to learn, to raise a remarkable daughter. Through it all, she expected her good health to return, and so it did. Virginia is an extraordinary woman. It is an absolute privilege to have her in my life.
Jennifer is one of my newest friends, although she feels like a very old soul. We met through an online diet and exercise group. To say that Jennifer is extraordinary would be the understatement of the year. Jennifer has many physical challenges. She has cerebral palsy. She has fibromyalgia. She also has some other as-yet-undiagnosed illness in her body – might be MS, might be advanced Lyme’s disease. Some days she can’t leave her house because she feels so awful, but she meets her life where it is and concentrates on growing her faith, raising her kids and being the best wife she can be. She is a certified BeachBody coach, encouraging others to reach for their very best selves and attain the highest level of fitness possible. Jennifer wakes up every morning and says, “How can I make today awesome? How can I use the strength I have today to make someone else’s life better?” I am humbled to know her.
My cousin Rick loves bears. He really loves bears. The wonderful thing about Rick is that the bears love him, too. They come to his house in the Appalachians and share their lives with him. They bring their cubs to meet him; they fight and play and mate and carry on their lives in his presence. They come to him when they are injured and he sits with them until they are ready to go back to the woods. His home is their home. This summer I was privileged to meet Ninny and her two cubs. She walked right up the stairs to his deck, greeting him and licking his toes. She showed no concern for the safety of her cubs, and wanted to know who I was, smelling my hand and my iPad, which was a new item to her. Her curiosity was amazing, her spirit palpable, and I felt no fear at all. He walked with her to the woods, talking to her the whole way. He’s an extraordinary man; his family knows that, I know that, and the bears know that.
It’s hard to find words to describe my friend Mark. One of his closest friends recently called him, “the man, the legend”. It seems to me, in light of his ability to live outside the box, that might be an understatement. Mark and I have known each other since grade school, but after his family moved at the end of 8th grade, we fell out of touch (there being no Facebook or EMail back in the mid 1970s). I was thrilled to connect with him again last year and went to visit him as soon as I could. His life reads like an adventure story. 82nd airborne, Army Ranger, persona non grata in several countries, 20 year career as a police officer, currently paramedic/fire fighter. He has scuba dived for dead bodies, lost fingers, raced motorcycles, and rebuilt cars. He has an engineering degree and just started nursing school. He deals with enough violence, blood, guts and gore to make even the strongest person blanch. Mark is also one of the most compassionate and funny men I’ve ever met. He is very involved in cat rescues and feral cat management. His friendships are deep, and his sense of loyalty inviolable. He lives with honor and integrity. The words from Shakespeare’s St. Crispin’s Day speech (Henry V) might well have been written for him, “If it be a sin to covet honor, I am the most offending soul alive.” Truly a remarkable and extraordinary man, one that I am proud to know and love.
It seems to me, after writing these brief curriculum vitae, that they are pale. They don’t describe the flesh and blood reality of these four people. They don’t describe the palpable vitality of their spirits. I could write and rewrite this post over and over for a month and would still not capture the essence of what makes them so important to me. However, I carry them in my heart, drawing inspiration from their lives every day.
It is my fervent wish that everyone who reads this post will find people who inspire you to be better, to reach farther, to be more compassionate and loving. It is my hope that you find the people who make you want to live a truly extraordinary life.
* * * * *