October 29, 2014

F*ck Excitement. Give me an Ordinary Life.

Josh James/Flickr

I have jumped out of a plane at 17,000 feet in Montreal.

I have run a marathon along the canals of Copenhagen.

I have competed in (and completed) the Death Race, a grueling team ultra-marathon in Grande Cache, AB, in the middle of the night.

I have been extremely privileged (spoiled, one could say), to have been given these opportunities, a body (and will) strong enough to accomplish them, a mind now enriched by travel and education and adventure.

Please don’t misunderstand me—I’m unbelievably grateful. Completely, blow-your-mind-experiences-of-a-lifetime grateful. I am tips-of-my-toes-to-my-fingertips thankful I have been able to do those things.

They were gifts.

I learned from visiting different cultures, had my body tested and my inner strength challenged. These are things I carry with me, inside me, and I am a greater person because of them.

Still, these are not the experiences I find myself appreciating in my life right now.

I want to share a gift I have recently been given, and that I think we all too often ignore: an ordinary life.

Due to illness—mental and otherwise—I was not present in my son’s life for some time. Hell, I wasn’t present in my own life for some time. Even when I was there, I was a husk of a human. I am excruciatingly lucky that my son has a wonderful father who stood up to the challenge of taking care of him during the times I wasn’t present.

Ironically, shame, guilt and remorse are what kept me leaving.

I will never forget the heart-shattering thing I used to see when my son looked at me: his eyes were wary. He looked at me the way I used to eye my cat Cleo (she had never fully lost her feral-ness)—never too sure if she would purr or bite.

When I came back—to health, to life, to his life—I had some serious trust to earn.

Not just his, obviously—his father’s, my family’s, the general world’s—but for me, the saddest, most heartbreaking thing I’ve ever seen was that studying, calculating look he had when he gazed at me. “Is it safe? Is she safe?”

I have an ordinary life now. Ordinary, on the outside. Ordinary, by the facts. I have a small apartment that I rent. I am not financially rich—I have returned to university to finish a degree I began ten years ago. But I cannot properly express to you the riches I have in that apartment on a daily basis.

At 3 p.m. I rush home from school and wait for the thumping, bouncing footsteps of a little boy running up the stairs to his mom’s house. Sometimes he brings a friend (the trust that implies, on his behalf, cannot be expressed).

A skateboard, a mountain bike, backpacks are strewn across my entry way. Glorious mess! Exquisite little-boy dirt! I putter around, making snacks, being privy to grade five gossip, beckoned over to examine the details of a car they want, a BMX bike that looks cool, a girl they have a crush on.

I have homework. I cannot afford to travel right now, even planning trips is beyond my means. The walks through Kin Coulee park, next to my house in Medicine Hat, have to suffice. Liam shows me his favorite place to stop by a stream, and mocks my hesitance to plummet down hills on my bike like he does.

This is an quiet, regular life.


I have three frames on my wall that summarize how my existence has changed.

Three black, empty frames my mom gave me as a gift to frame some gorgeous pictures from my travels. They are hung on the wall, but right now I can’t afford to get the pictures printed to fill them, so they hang empty.

They frame our warm little home, our laughs, the days Liam comes home and throws himself on the couch to bewail to me about the latest classroom drama.

We have books and music, and this, by far, is the most passionate, thrilling way I have ever lived.

It is only through being bereft of this average existence for so long that I have learned the true, extravagantly rich value of it. I hope I pass this on to my son—the worth that we can find in the everyday minutiae of life; in walking to school on a sunny morning, in cooking a new dish with me in the kitchen; in the funny, quirky moments that we share riding the bus.

I hope that in becoming accustomed to this life, I never fail to recognize the brilliance of it.

We have an abundance of wealth in our happiness and in the exquisite beauty of the world around us.

I hope that you, dear reader, pause in your commonplace moments, whether they are on a beach in Costa Rica or a kitchen in Idaho, and appreciate the average, the non-momentous occasions.

The ordinary life we have is absolutely extraordinary, every single day.

And my son? His eyes are warm and trusting when he looks at me. They are little-boy eyes again.

If this is an ordinary life, give it to me a thousand, billion times over.






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Author: Keeley Milne

Editor: Emily Bartran

Photo: Josh James/Flickr

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