In the 2013 film About Time (recommended for parents only), Domhnall Gleeson's character finds himself on the verge of losing his unusual ability to travel back to earlier moments in life. As a last hurrah, though, he makes a rather surprising choice...
He doesn't visit the moment of a little league championship or even of his wedding. Instead, he chooses a rather ordinary day at the beach, playing in the sand with his father and chasing waves. A lifetime of perspective has afforded him the ability to see the extraordinary in what once seemed ordinary.
Today was my 29th first day of school – rather routine by this point. But it's hard to imagine one of more consequence than this.
This past summer, the unexpected gift of pandemic living has shown us how to see the ordinary in a new light. My family experienced this new perspective when we traveled out of state, visiting an area with fewer COVID restrictions.
It happened that, for the first time in months, when we stumbled across a playground, we didn't have to dissuade our disappointed kids and walk in the opposite direction. This time we could encourage them to enjoy the playground to their hearts' delight. And as we watched them play, a strange thing happened. We cried.
My wife and I looked at each other and asked ourselves, "Why are we crying? It's just a playground."
We've spent much of the past eight years deflecting incessant requests to go to the playground. But then, at that moment, suddenly, our joy was overflowing - it was as though we discovered a sunken ship packed to the brim with buried treasure!
This morning, on the first day of school, our seventh-grade class reflected on the fact that there is a very real scenario in which, for the secondary school, at least, today will have been the only day of in-person school this year. It was a sobering thought.
During the past weeks, the time spent making in-person learning possible has added up quickly – COVID testing, procedure reviews, classroom moves, and setups to maintain appropriate distance, blended learning training, and so on – dozens of hours for teachers and hundreds for administrators. And potentially, all this for one day. Three hours onsite, face-to-face, that's it.
It's not a sustainable model, of course. But given our circumstances, I sense that it was worth every minute!
There are ordinary things worth laboring for, worth obsessing over. The blessing of today's unusual first day of school is that it is now coming into focus, more than ever before, what some of those ordinary-yet-worthy things are: reading, discussing, walking, and strategizing together. And with a common purpose beyond filling time, losing quarantine weight, or whatever other motivations have ruled the past five months.
Rather than constantly longing for some infusion of excitement or pizzazz into our lives, we are now in a much better position to realize the extraordinary potential of the ordinary, taking nothing for granted and rejoicing in the gift of each new day.