Written by Malachi Brown
Leo Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina,” often asserted as the best novel of all time, opens with this line: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” If this is true, I have to choose between being happy and being unique. I feel like I grew up in a generally happy family, so whenever people talk about testimonies, I never feel like I can weigh in because I’ve had a silly, happy, mundane little life.
As someone who values my individuality and the uniqueness of every creature, it makes me uneasy to think I might be like Ned Flanders of “The Simpsons” just because we both have happy families. I want something drastic to happen to separate me from the blind faith or altruism that comes with the connotation of a “happy family.” I, as a happy person, am condemned to writing the same types of papers, working desk at Allen Hall, making a slightly different devo for my social club and working at the same silly little dumpling shop every weekend. Unhappy people, though, have several options. Affairs, addictions, abuse or general meanness distinguish one unhappy person from another, and as much as I hate to be like Ned Flanders, I certainly don’t want that either.
As someone who wants to be happy and also be a good person, I tend to evaluate my life fairly often, and when I must remind myself of what makes me happy, it’s not the things that distinguish me from other people. I do not think about the time I was a drum major for my high school marching band and we won first place, or when I got beauxed, nor the time I was on the Acropolis gazing at the Parthenon. Instead, I think about when my friend Maddy and I would read poetry and talk about why we thought it was pretty, or when Josh makes a fart noise in the library to make me laugh, or when Erin makes a silly face at me in Bible class, or Michael when he smiles wide at me every morning in the Student Center. I cannot afford to think of the extraordinary, because it does not happen enough. Instead, I must think of the ordinary, everyday goods that sustain me from one moment to the next.
The most monotonous part of my week, Sunday nights, also serves as the most life-giving. I feel the same wind in my face every week as I bike to Sladers to make dumplings. It seems simple, but there is something about working with my hands and making dumplings for 10 hours a week that is not just working but also becomes a ritual of praise for the fact that I am a human being capable of something as simple as making food for another. To echo G.K. Chesterton, there is beauty in monotony the same way God does not copy and paste every daisy or every sunset but never gets bored making them from scratch.
In higher churches (Catholicism, Eastern Orthodox, etc.), to designate times and places as holy. The tradition I (and many of us) grew up in had an aversion to that, saying, “Why should we celebrate the birth of Christ any more on Christmas than we do the rest of the year?” Then, in an attempt to make every day more holy to match Christmas and Easter, we only profane them and barely celebrate them at all. Living a life that feels monotonous is just the same.
We cannot allow what is monotonous to profane what is holy, so we must view every day as a holy day and every place a holy place. Reading books is no longer for the purpose of making a grade, but to gaze at a new facet of the infinite God; singing in the shower is no longer an excuse to enjoy the hot water longer but a way to feel like I am a person; making dumplings is no longer what I do to make $11 an hour, but it is a ritual I perform in service to God as a way to sustain the human beings he has created. Even if it makes me just like everyone else, the ordinary goods of human life are what give me my humanity.