Reborn into Ordinariness, Part 2
“I was reborn into ordinariness, but what more could one ask for?”
Kevin Kelly, an independent photographer at the time, was 27 years old and in Jerusalem during Easter weekend, an experience he shared with Ira Glass on the podcast, This American Life, in 1997. He found himself locked out of his hostel on the eve of Easter and spent the night on a marble slab in the church built on the rumored crucifixion site of Jesus. Something happened as he slept and he awoke believing that God is real and that Jesus rose from the dead with a certitude he had never felt previously. As he pondered what he should do differently because of his new-found belief, a thought occurred to him, as if spoken directly into his head, that he should live as if he had six months to live. He considered his options. He thought about spending his final weeks in an extraordinary endeavor, like climbing Mt. Everest. Instead, he decided to move back home with his parents and spend his final days in ordinariness. He washed dishes and worked in their yard. He got to know his parents better. He reconnected with family and friends as if for the last time. He reconciled with people he felt he had unfinished business with. He anonymously gave away what little money he had accumulated.
Six months to the day of his awakening on the marble slab in Jerusalem was Halloween. He went to bed that night with no expectation of waking up the next morning. But he did. He gets very emotional as he recalls the sense of freedom and excitement he felt on being reborn into ordinariness that morning after Halloween. His entire life, in doubt just hours before, now stretched out before him like a landscape of untapped and unrestrained possibility. He had no debts and no ghosts haunting him – only the present moment and the unbound opportunity for new life.
Kevin Kelly’s experience forced him to release the binds of two of the biggest imprisonments for most of us – the past and the future. And his story invites us to look differently, too. What if, as in Mr. Kelly’s case, we assumed we had no future beyond a fixed, rapidly approaching date? There would be no reason to waste one’s remaining time thinking, dreaming, or worrying about anything beyond that date. And what if we woke up one morning with a completely reconciled past? No regrets, nothing binding us to that which is no longer present? How would we live differently?
When the imprisoning past and anxiety-ridden future are removed from our conscious awareness, what is left is the bright, beautiful, infinite potential of the present and its starkly ordinary moments. Normally, we miss the beauty and potential of our present moments because our present awareness is consumed with past regrets and/or future concerns. It is easier to live in the past or future because there is little we can do about either except worry. The present moment, when attended to however, calls us to action and awareness. Living in the past or future is an entirely intellectual and illusional endeavor and, worst of all, is a total dereliction of the invitations of the present moment.
Here is an enlightening exercise. I invite you as far into it as you can bring yourself to go.
- Choose a date to symbolically represent your last day on earth. The day should be far enough out to allow sufficient time to reconcile whatever needs reconciling from your past, probably at least a month. The day, however, should not be so far into the future that it will not bring a sense of urgency, probably no more than six months.
- Make a list of everything that ties you to your past – difficult relationships, debts, acts in need of forgiveness (either by or others). Create a step-by-step plan for how to free yourself from each item on the list.
- Make a list of everything you worry about for the future. Assign a rating showing how likely your concerns are to occur. Scratch off everything that is unlikely to occur prior to your final day on earth. Scratch off everything you have little or no control over. If anything remains, list steps you can take in the present moment to prepare for the event. If there is nothing you can do now, scratch it off.
- Make an inventory of your possessions. Give away or sell everything you have not used in the last year. Give away or sell everything you are not likely to use by the date of your symbolic passing. Create a plan for the distribution of everything you own upon your passing.
Having released yourself from your past encumbrances and done what is reasonably possible to prepare for your remaining days, marvel at the miraculous presence of God in the amazing ordinariness of each of your remaining moments. You have been given a present – the present! What more could one possibly ask for?
 Kevin Kelly, radio interview with Ira Glass, https://www.thisamericanlife.org/50/shoulda-been-dead/act-one, accessed on April 16, 2022. The story is well worth hearing in Mr. Kelly’s words, not just my paraphrase of it.