March 4, 2009

Quite (extra)ordinary

"I know that my achievement is quite ordinary. I am not the only man to seek his fortune far from home, and certainly I am not the first. Still, there are times I am bewildered by each mile I have traveled, each meal I have eaten, each person I have known, each room in which I have slept. As ordinary as it all appears, there are times when it is beyond my imagination."
-- Jhumpa Lahiri's "The Third and Final Continent"
That is how Interpreter of Maladies ends. And I wanted to hate it, but it was such a great ending that I just couldn't. Usually, I can't help but hate (or at least dislike) the final words of a story that I've immensely enjoyed, because it signals the inevitable fact that there isn't any more to come.

It's so universal, this odd swelling of self-pride upon seeing that we've accomplished things that we never even thought we were capable of doing. Oftentimes we work so hard for what we want that we might stop, too tired to even think back to a time when we ever had the energy to be able to take those first steps that were so necessary to bring us to this point. And so we feel proud of what we've accomplished, because even if it isn't anything groundbreaking or unfathomable, it is our own, and we are entitled to marvel at the lives we've shaped. We achieve things without even knowing that we were in the midst of greatness, that our lives are extraordinary in their ordinary way, and when we finally stop and reflect on it, it feels good, so very good.

I can't help but think back on Eggers and his euphoric sense of accomplishment in AHWOSG:
"Oh please. What would a brain do if not these sorts of exercises? I have no idea how people function without near-constant internal chaos. I'd lose my mind."
And so it's true -- we push and push and push ourselves until we feel we're nearly going crazy, but the truth is, we'd really go crazy if we didn't keep pushing ourselves to what felt like the brink of chaos. And this is "quite ordinary," but it's also what makes the human being extraordinary.

1 comment:

Kara said...

You have a wonderful way of defining feelings I previously thought unexplainable. I'm glad we're friends.