[My apologies; this is not technically a comment on a particular talk at the IHM homeschooling conference; I’ll get to those tomorrow. This was on my mind, and, as such, had to be gotten out by putting it on the blog.]
A number of the talks I attended at the homeschooling conference were on the subject (or study) of G.K. Chesterton. In one talk, a particular idea (among the dozens of wonderful quotes offered) caught my attention (so much so that I failed to write it down, apparently) and sort of stuck in my head:
We have been taught to want abnormal or extraordinary things, and, so, have forgotten how to want normal things.
Think about that for a second.
What do kids dream of? Being famous: football star, music star, movie star, whatever. Never mind that someone is probably more likely to be struck by lightening than to be the next Brett Favre or Angelina Jolie. The old (and attainable) dreams of fireman or teacher are largely forgotten by most children. (Diva first wanted to be a nun, now she declares that she’s going to be a mommy. Don’t know how I managed to make it seem like an enviable job, but I’m thankful.)
To be honest, what do we dream of? We joke about, “Yeah, I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up…” because, somehow, middle management or homeschooling stay-at-home mom wasn’t on most of our lists (and, some days, those nasty little voices in our ears whisper that we could really do better). At some point, most of us, at least secretly, hoped to be famous or important or recognized or a hero or at least a published author or something. We all grew up being encouraged to “make something of yourself” or “live up to your potential,” with the implication that we’d wind up well-known and well-off.
It’s an insidious call. Surveys consistently show that about 75% of employed women with small children wished they could stay home… but they don’t. A book was published a few years back called Shut Up and Get Back to Work, because women with degrees were allegedly wasting their lives and schooling and endangering future female students’ chances of getting scholarships by staying home to raise their own kids. People bought it (the book, and, apparently, the premise).
I think Chesterton nailed it, a century ago: we don’t want the normal things. Which is what most of us will get: the normal things. So, we really ought to learn to be happy with it.
Frankly, the leaders who are happy with the normal things make some of the best extraordinary people. George Washington, repeatedly, tried to retire to his plantation; he didn’t want fame, he wanted home. Cardinal Ratzinger was looking forward to maybe finally retiring back to Bavaria to chat and play piano with his brother… and got elected pope. Those who actually want the abnormal things are often the ones who do the worst with them (how many music and movie stars totally self-destruct with drugs and promiscuity? The ones who stay sort of private and try to maintain a quasi-normal family life tend to do better, happiness-wise).
But what is normal? Chesterton held up the most normal thing of all: a happy home life.
I’m reading Prof. Joseph Pearce’s biography of G. K. Chesterton, Wisdom and Innocence. A key figure in Chesterton’s life was his wife, Frances. However, she barely appears in his autobiography. Critics have pointed to this as evidence of Chesterton’s Victorian misogyny, but friends said it was because Frances requested to be left out, preferring her privacy. On a speaking tour in the U.S., Frances told reporters that, really, she and Mr. Chesterton were very private, and were, in fact, terribly homesick for their own home, their own garden, in their little hometown in England.
Chesterton had fame and fortune, even if he is rather ignored today. As Dale Ahlquist, the president of the American Chesterton Society, said, “We have the bizarre problem of a 300-pound writer having fallen through the cracks…”
But he wanted the normal things. He loved the normal things.
The extraordinary things came…
but they still didn’t mean as much to him as the normal things.
(On related note, there is a wonderful essay on the possibilities of GKC’s beatification (patron saint of journalists?). At the homeschooling conference, Mr. Ahlquist was vigorously passing out cards promoting the cause (I have lost mine… I shall have to attend the big conference in August to acquire a new one to pin on the fridge…))