Last night I stayed out till about 3am with some old friends. We shared the same stories we always share, stories about living in the woods, in the mountains of Oregon, about how we met in Colorado, about how we used to sleep on the lawn or meet each other outside one of our high schools, waiting for somebody to come tumbling out the window to skip for the day so we could go to the river. We all agreed those were some of the best days of our lives. And each of us has lived a life with no less risk, adventure or excitement.
As the evening wore down, one of my friend said to me, “You know, Don, I think I just assumed back then that everybody was special, that everybody wanted to live an exceptional life, but it isn’t true. The older I get, the more I realize people don’t really know how to live well. There are not very many special people in the world.”
I reluctantly agreed. I say reluctantly because in my line of work you meet and even seek out exceptional people. I’ve met tons of them, many of them having become my role models and best friends.
Now, by special I do not mean talented, rich or famous. I have very few friends like that. I just mean people who are doing life differently, whether that means home schooling their kids or showing their work in galleries or inventing a different kind of bicycle to save a country. I am talking about people who take social norms as suggestions, not mandates.
I confess I have little patience for normality. Oh, I love laying in bed on Sunday morning and watching football on Saturday. I think if you followed me around for a week you’d see a lot of normal. But I can’t live that way for long.
It’s not that I think normal people are boring or not good enough, it’s that normal people often have beauty and strength and abilities they aren’t using. In America, normal means that you are a follower, a consumer, not a creator. I don’t mean to sound judgmental, but I have felt this way for a long time. The truth is I don’t want to live a normal life. I want to homeschool my kids, on a boat in the Jervis Inlet. I want them to know that if they want they can grow up and be Senators, or Opera singers. I want to study Michaelangelo in Rome and Florence, I want them to worship Jesus in a Buddhist temple, befriend famous authors, assist in surgeries in the third world, ride their bikes across Africa and disagree, at thirteen, with columnists in the New York Times. Why? Because they can, and nobody is stopping them.
Many of us are normal because we are afraid. We aren’t taking responsibility for the exceptional opportunities that are laid before us. We have failed to realize that God shares agency with us. He shares his power, and even His will. God is the Father sitting with his child at a giant, blank piece of butcher paper asking us what we want to draw. And within reason, we can draw whatever we want.
I’m going to start a series on exceptional people and what makes them so exceptional. But I’m starting this series because I want all of us to understand that we can be exceptional, too. If you want to live an exceptional life, just strike out and make it happen. Nothing is stopping you.
So, keep watching in January. I’ll be featuring more than few of my heroes and together maybe we can learn from them.
As we start, and as offensive as the question may sound, what do you think makes people stand out? What makes somebody special?