Seven Ordinary Things that Serve as Extraordinary Reminders


By Aubrey Murtha — When I came up with the idea for this blog, I vowed to limit it to things that are education-related (because, if you are a regular reader of my material, you may know that I have a history of failing to honor the fact that this is a blog about education). I apologize for that, I really do!

I have since vowed to myself that I will make it my personal goal to limit my blog posts to topics pertaining to formal education, educational politics, and my personal teaching experiences…starting tomorrow.

For now, though, consider my writing to once again be a post about learning outside of the classroom.

Today, I made a list of a few seemingly ordinary things that often carry with them important reminders.  I am asking you to consider my thoughts, and next time you’re having a rough day and mom serves you watermelon on a summer afternoon, remember the significance of that piece of fruit (See #4).

Seven Ordinary Things that Serve as Extraordinary Reminders:

  • A Sunshiny Wake-up Call: 
    Sometimes, I wake up in mid-February, peer out my window in Schroeder Hall, and mistakenly think to myself that it must be warm since that sun is just a-blazing.  Yes, I obtusely neglect to note the snow on the ground and the hordes of miserable students grimacing in the blustery wind.  I love waking up to the sun.  Waking up to the sun coming through my shades reminds me that every day is a beautiful day to fall in love.  No kidding, at the beginning of the year, I would wake up, throw open the curtains, and scream, “Oh, isn’t it just a beautiful day to fall in love!”  Needless to say, that got old for my roommate.
  • The Small Town Feel: 
    Because I cannot think of a real way to sum up my idea of small town life, I’m just going to call that “local festival, neighborhood bar and grill, high school football game” sensation the small town feels.  Although I am from Milwaukee, whenever I go up to northern Wisconsin and stop in JJ’s Bait Shop or attend an outdoor Sunday mass, I’m reminded why I appreciate the tiny, tight knit communities of the Midwest.  There is something gorgeous about knowing your neighbor’s life story, about the relationship between a man and his land, about a county fair and a prize-winning pig.  It’s the stuff of country music.  The small town feels remind me that there is true and tangible beauty in simplicity.
  • Unexpected Successes: 
    You’ve probably written a paper last minute and handed it in regardless.  Maybe you really embarrassed yourself at the beginning of your date with a campus cutie.  Perhaps you read the spice bottle wrong and threw a teaspoon of cumin (not cinnamon!) into your morning oatmeal.  We all make mistakes.  However, sometimes, on very rare occasions, we receive an A on that paper, the boy gives us a kiss at the end of the night anyway, and we realize that cumin opens up a whole new mind-blowing can of amazing when we mix it with our Quaker Oats.  The last example is probably not true, but you get my point.  When my failures turn into my own unexpected successes, I am reminded that it is okay to occasionally take calculated risks, embrace embarrassment, and loosen up.    
  • Summertime Foods:
    I’m talking about the foodstuffs you’d snag at the ball park or maybe cook up for a sunshiny afternoon at the lake.  Think “Fourth of July.”  Grilled hot dogs, s’mores, watermelon (those big slices with the green rind still on), potato chips, pasta salad, and maybe two scoops of melty strawberry ice cream to top it all off.  This—yes—this, and the beautiful people that usually accompany a meal like this speak to my soul.  Summertime food reminds me that sometimes cheap can be oh-so-delicious.  Fancy is fun on occasion, but paper plates and Solo cups on a gingham-draped picnic table are just enough for me.
  • “Front Porch Philosophy”:
    You know those lazy evenings when you are hanging out with friends or family and suddenly a casual conversation about your aunt’s expensive bottle of Napa Valley wine turns into a profoundly stirring reflection on the significance of transubstantiation in the Roman Catholic tradition?  No? You’ve never had that experience?  Okay, well your brother probably doesn’t have a minor in theology from Notre Dame. But still, you can relate.  Unanticipated spiritual, intellectual, theological, or philosophical debates can be not only entertaining, but also thoroughly enlightening.  We learn some of our most important life lessons out on the patio, by the campfire, or sitting on that wrap around porch.  “Front porch philosophy” reminds me that learning is continuous, intellect is not reserved for classroom use, and deep discussions can be real avenues for bonding.
  • A Flag Flying High:
    My appreciation for the American flag extends far beyond any feeling of sentimentality.  Most people bleed red, but I would not be surprised if one day mine also came out white and blue.  Although I am not ignorant to the many faults of our country and the irremovable stains of sin that have left their mark on our history, and I believe that we have a lot to learn from other countries, I am truly the biggest fan of this melting pot of ideas, thoughts, theologies, customs and cuisines that we call home—The United States of America.  The American flag will always remind me of the military women and men who sacrifice their lives for the sake of mine, my inalienable freedoms, and what a real blessing it is for me to call myself a citizen of this great place. 
  • A Moving Church Hymn:
    Ordinary as it may be, a good church song can sometimes make me tear up right in front of everyone in the pew next to me.  Interestingly, I often hear songs at mass with lyrics that specifically address a personal struggle that I or a friend might be battling.  Call it fate or sweet serendipity or if you are like me, call it God.   A throaty gospel rendition of “Amazing Grace” or an acapella “Ave Maria” is sometimes all I need to get through my week until next Sunday.  A moving church hymn reminds me that there is more to this crazy life than the here and now, motivates me to keep the faith, and moves me to pray. 

I hope my reflections inspire you to make a personal list of your own daily reminders.  There is so very much that we can learn from the seemingly mundane.

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