We live in a beautiful subdivision. West coast style homes on large lots. Perfectly manicured lawns and gardens abound. Last weekend I watched someone vacuum their rock garden. (I once went 8 months without vacuuming the carpet in the basement apartment I shared with my Golden Retriever. … In my defense I did clean the bathroom weekly).
I love our neighbourhood – a perfect mix of young families and vibrant retirees. The park, the trails, the front porches, are all conducive to building friendships and creating a community.
There are rules though. We’re governed by bylaws. A long list of ‘though shall’ and ‘though shall not’ commandments dictate how our yards must look: our grass, our fences, what we park in our driveway. Breaking the rules is a roll of the dice. Maybe no one notices or cares. Or maybe someone writes a letter to the council. And they investigate. And issue a warning letter. Or a fine. Maybe things get ugly. It’s happened before.
Our home and grounds will never be the most attractive. Our lawn is not perfectly manicured. There’s moss, and dead spots from dog pee. But we try. We plant flowers, and hang baskets. We grow vegetables. We’ve trucked in yards of soil and mulch and spent thousands of dollars on cedars and shrubs. In part we do it because we enjoy it. It is satisfying and rewarding to beautify our home and our neighbourhood. But there isn’t enough money, and definitely not enough time. We’re treading water in the battle against weeds, erosion and decay. We’re striving for mediocrity. Trying to fit in, and not stand out for the wrong reasons.
I’m learning to accept that striving for mediocrity is okay. It’s not the mediocrity that matters. It’s the striving.
Before work I often run at Summit Park in Victoria. This time of year, the sun rises as I run intervals on a dirt path around a reservoir in this hidden jewel of a park that overlooks the city. This week the sunrise reminded me that our sun, and the universe, are billions of years old. They will continue for billions of years after we are gone.
In the time scale of the cosmos, you and I, and everything we do, are utterly insignificant. We could not matter less. Which, paradoxically, makes you and I, and everything we do, infinitely important. Because our lives are miracles, precious and rare. Every second matters. Everything we do counts.
We cannot and should not strive to be mediocre in all we do. Mediocre doesn’t cut it when it comes to being a husband or a father. Our careers matter too – we have a responsibility to do our best when we go to work. We owe it to our colleagues. We owe it to each other. We’re privileged to live in this country. We all play a role in keeping it working – whatever work we do.
But life is too short to define it by our careers. The universe is too big and too old not to pursue our passions. Last month I went bouldering for the first time. I’m scared of heights and I wanted to face that fear. I’ve been three times now. I love it. Being sixteen feet off the ground, knowing a fall might mean serious injury focuses my mind and body more than almost anything I’ve ever done. Talk about living in, and appreciating, the moment. It’s impossible to think about work while lunging from one hold to another while dangling in the air.
Two weeks ago I bought a guitar. I’ve never played an instrument in my life. I have zero innate musical talent. I can’t read a note. I can’t hold a tune. I’m starting from rock bottom. I’ve played that guitar every day since. I’m awful, as my neighbours will attest, because sometimes, when I get home from work, I play on the front porch or back patio. If there isn’t a noise bylaw in our neighbourhood there should be. They have every right to complain about my botched chords and terrible twanging.
If someone does complain, I’ll plead guilty and pay the fine. I’ll never become a good guitar player, or even an average one, if I don’t strive for mediocrity first.
… Now, out to the garden.