Monday, March 9, 2015

An Ordinary American

I was talking to my mom the other day and she said, randomly, as she is wont to do with age, "I hate that term - 'ordinary American'. I don't think anyone is ordinary. Everyone is extraordinary if you just take notice." She went on about that a bit until she sent herself on another tangent, I think about bananas being on sale at Jewel.

The idea stayed with me.

A few weeks ago, I'd gone on a listing appointment. I pulled up to a pretty basic-looking bungalow tucked away into the city's most common anonymity. I walked in, greeted by a genteel man transplanted from the south, his twang funny and out of synch with my Chicago bawl. I followed him through generous rooms lined with books, trailing along soft yellow walls behind him. There were fine furnishings, photos, the treats of travel. The house, like the man, was unpretentious but rich, funny in places, unabashedly simple.  An interesting man lived here, an ordinary American.

I walked back to my car and looked along the row of bungalows hunched against the sidewalk and wondered about them, every one.

Then Ernie Banks passed away, as fine an American as you'll find.

Just like the bungalow, Ernie was also as Chicago as you could get.  Because I am Chicago, and he is Chicago, he is mine and so his feats belong to me in a way, to us all. Most who expressed condolence repeated the experience of meeting him, knowing him, shaking his hand. These, too, are mine, because these are not athletic talents, they are human expressions, endeavors of the ordinary. But then -  ordinary? This man? Not one bit.

I worry a great deal, which is not to say that I'm a worrier, but a mother and worry just comes with the job.

I worry about the world into which I deliver my children. I worry about our politics and our global affairs. I worry about whether I'll have enough money saved, enough good health to take care of myself and not burden my family. I worry that the world has gone mad and I can't relate to anyone because everyone is completely off the rails, skittering, teetering, screeching. I'm just one ordinary American, in a quiet panic.

And then I stop to notice people. I notice their book collections and affection for their grandparents' old furniture. I notice their genuine smiles and patience for children. I notice their soft hands when they kiss me and touch my face before toddling off to the grocery store to buy what should be a lifetime supply of bananas (on sale!) and I think. It's all fine.

In fact, it's better than fine.

It's quite good to be an ordinary American.

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