The history of ordinary lives

The sweep of history is often remembered through the grand acts – the wars, the revolutions, the public acts of despots, geniuses, and heroes.

But it is lived for the most part by so-called ordinary lives. The people who, perhaps like you and me, will be recalled only by a handful of people, and whose memory fades within a generation or two.

It’s easy to compare our lives with the famous ones, to imagine that a life well lived is one that will stand out across time, one that will be remembered. But what about the everyday dignity of caring for a home, loving people close by, bringing home a living, touching others with simplicity and genuineness?

I can’t think of a better book about this topic than John Williams’ novel Stoner, first published in 1965. Stoner, a university professor, lives an undistinguished life, charted with exquisite precision and compassion by Williams. We know from the start that he will hardly be remembered – by his colleagues, his students – and yet we come to see the beauty in his humanity: in his doubts and confusions, his suffering, the gifts he brings to others, the deep currents of meaning that bubble below the surface, and in the sheer extraordinary everydayness of his life.

Stoner is a fabulous reminder of the preciousness of even the most apparently mundane life, and the shining jewels that lie within. And it’s a beautiful read.

Photo Credit: Sarah Korf via Compfight cc

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