Aimless and Ordinary
by Eric Alan
May 4, 2019 - 1:06pm

Lately, I’ve shifted from seeking pinnacles of experience, to deepening my appreciation of the aimless and ordinary—though I define those terms differently than many.


Peak moments still capture my imagination, and everyone’s. As photographers and viewers, we’re drawn to the image that captures the most exquisite sunset, or the autumn leaf best colored with the grace of a master painter’s brushstroke. Beyond photography too, other peak moments beckon to us all: the exceptional vacation; the one kiss that feels just right; the career that exactly suits and rewards our desires and talents.


Yet for every lasting photograph, thousands fall forgotten. Most of us can’t afford perfect vacations. The perfect kiss is even harder to give than to find and receive. Even making a living is often daunting in this precarious time—let alone doing so in a way that perfectly nurtures. I look outward and notice further extremes in climate, politics and society; in what people share about their lives online. When we get the notion that living to high extremes is our daily goal—and what others around us are achieving—we mostly achieve quiet despair.


I notice a new kind of fatigue creeping in: call it the fatigue of the spectacular. It’s kin to compassion fatigue, where compassion begins to wear out under conditions of constant heightened demand for it. I recall noticing that fatigue while sipping a glass of mediocre wine, shared with friends focused too finely on pursuit of the perfect vintage. I enjoyed that harsh merlot much more than they did, because I wasn’t sharing their relentless pursuit of perfection. I only wanted an ordinary moment of relaxation, shared on a porch. I didn’t need the sunset to be thrilling either. Ordinary imperfection was, for me, perfect. It still is.   


Ordinary may have connotations of the drab and unremarkable. In my definition, though, it’s more the commonplace—and the deeper I look into the commonplace, the more beauty I can find within it. My camera shows me that as clearly as a glass of imperfect wine.


For instance, I was recently on the coast with a friend on a cold, gray day. The fog wouldn’t reveal spectacular vistas. It was the only day we could go, though; and as we walked along the beach, the more that common beauty revealed itself as I looked. In particular, I loved discovering subtle colors in sea foam that I wouldn’t have thought to seek. And when I looked more deeply into the bubbles’ reflections, I found myself in each.


In that reflection, I not only found beauty: I found a metaphor for how I seek to give and serve, as my life’s next growth inevitably emerges from scars. I found my love of aimlessness.


To me, being aimless doesn’t mean having no purpose or direction: it simply means letting go of where I selfishly have wished to go, in favor of where the world really needs me.


In those soft sea foam colors I saw my zigzag careers, plural. You can’t just do one thing anymore and then retire, it seems; and the paths that have fit me best are not the ones for which my young heart fiercely aimed. The world has humbled me, and humbles me still, through its need for my skills in ways that integrate with my daily struggles, flaws and pains. I have repeatedly found my true purpose far from my aims.


Thus I celebrate the aimless and ordinary. I wake up each morning with curiosity about where I will be asked to serve. I look into another imperfect day and see that the ordinary is again exceptional.

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