The people who are closest to me know of my deep-seated, nearly embarrassing obsession with a bookstore in my hometown called Commonplace Books. I have visited this bookshop too many times to count and spent more money here than I care to admit. The store is lined with shelves upon shelves of novels, children’s books and memoirs, all thoughtfully curated and housed. Countless times I have passed through its doors, and not once did I question the meaning of the store’s name, until this summer when a friend brought it to my attention.
A commonplace book is a compilation of moments, phrases or words that you deem noteworthy; it can be nothing more than a passing observation or a quote that changes your perspective in some small way. Most people are probably familiar with this idea, and I was simply behind the times, but it was ironic to me that there exists a book for people to collect commonplace items: not unusual and ordinary items. However, these items must be recognized to have some value if a person cares to document them and remember them.
When mid-March hit this year, it seemed as if most of the world was faced with two extremes; we witnessed some of the most extraordinary and historic moments and events, alongside those that were incredibly simple, mundane and oftentimes boring, at best. Trying to reckon with these two was one of the greatest challenges from the past several months: How do you let the most severe, and what seems to be the most inconsequential, moments of life dance alongside one another? How do you watch catastrophic events unfold while sitting in the same chair, doing the same things, for hours on end? How do you find the balance between mourning the devastation that took place (and continues to take place), and still allow gratitude and beauty to seep in every once in a while?
As time passed, and I remained confused about the state of the world, I started to collect the moments, words and spaces that caught my attention, even if only for a second. I wrote them down and acknowledged their validity and existence. Because as time went on, I found that life is all about this balance; it’s about allowing the momentous and the habitual to wax and wane, to overlap and coexist.
As I look back on the past several months of my life, yes, I remember those moments that ultimately changed the trajectory of our lives; I remember the moments that devastated me, along with the rest of the world. Yet, I also hold onto chopping fresh herbs with my mom, hard conversations with those I love most, good conversations with those I love most, walking, crying, sitting and being. It was in those moments that I received quiet, routine visits from greater empathy for humanity; greater understanding of my own brokenness; as well as the occasional reminder that these types of moments are sacred. In commonplace lies some of life’s most precious gifts.
So, here is my ode to the less glamorous parts of life — to the passing conversations and sentences that catch my ear. Here is my charge to notice the less-noticed, and to cultivate commonplace.