This was the scene from Big Sur, California, last spring as Jon and I perched on a rock at a highway turnoff near the Bixby Bridge.
It is maybe one of the most gorgeous sights I’ve ever seen. Like, the kind that makes your heart beat faster and your eyes tear up and just leaves you speechless.
I was speechless a lot on that drive, up “the 1,” from the LA area up to Monterey County. We’d round a corner and see a stunning stretch of blue-green water, then round another and see a jaw-dropping mountain range, and just when I wondered how it could possibly get any better, we came across the scene above.
We saw some other impressive sights on our trip to California: the view of LA and my first sighting of the Hollywood sign from the Griffith Observatory; the adorable city of San Luis Obispo, nestled in a green valley; spotting pelicans and seals in the wharf in Santa Barbara; the rocky coast outside of Monterey. It didn’t hurt that the weather was perfect the entire time we were there, either, sunny and 75-80 degrees and not a cloud in the sky.
So heading back to the Midwest – where we had to fly through a thick cloud as we made our descent into Chicago, which tossed the plane around more than I was comfortable with, and then landed in a 39-degree drizzle – was a bit of a rude awakening. Driving past industrial sites and strip malls on the long stretch of highway between Chicago and our home in Michigan, we marveled at how quickly we had gone from being enveloped in so much extraordinary beauty, back to…well, ordinary.
Re-entry to real life can be tough after a vacation, and this one has been particularly difficult because we were thrust right back into the ordinary-est of circumstances, with work and deadlines and cruddy weather to boot. It was so easy for Jon and I to fantasize that a life in California would be somehow more magical, more fun, happier, than our ordinary lives in Michigan. Surrounded by all the beauty in Big Sur, or all the activity in LA, a life has to be, well, just more somehow…right?
But the truth is, even people who live in the most beautiful locales or busiest cities in the world mostly live ordinary lives. They go to work, raise their kids, and pay their bills like regular people, regardless of the backdrop.
It’s easy to glamorize life when you’re on the outside looking in. But people are people, no matter where you go. We all have worries and bills and boring days and most of us do, occasionally, experience bad weather.
And when I really pay attention, I know that my little corner of the world isn’t really so ordinary, either: it’s just that we know the scenery so well that we don’t always notice its unique beauty, like this view just a few blocks from my house.
There’s a popular quote that gets shared often on social media, something to the effect of “measure life not in the number of breaths you take, but in the moments that take your breath away.” I understand why people like its flowery, feel-good message, but the quote has always bothered my pragmatic side.
Because life really isn’t about chasing down one breathless moment after another, is it? Maybe it’s more about accepting that those occasional experiences that leave us speechless and teary-eyed are more the punctuation to a good life than the bulk of it. It’s a lovely thing to feel that way occasionally, but the calm, the quiet, the comfortable laugh with a good friend – the ordinary – counts, too.
I’m trying to remember that now as we ease back into real life and our trip becomes more and more distant in the rear-view mirror. And to remind myself, too, to try to see my unique “ordinary” through the fresh eyes of a visitor.
Because no matter where you live or what you do, to somebody else, your ordinary may not seem so ordinary at all.