Beauty of the Ordinary

Every experience feels new, right and good and calls out in me a gratitude for the grace and beauty of the ordinary.

For more than a year we put life on hold. It was March 2020 when our adult children went into full protection mode, doing everything in their power to keep us safe. They obviously talked among themselves and, in that we are in the most vulnerable age group for becoming infected with the COVID-19 virus, one at a time, in person and in long distance phone calls, gently but urgently asked us to avoid doing much of anything outside of our home. They ran our errands for us, did our grocery shopping, picked up our prescriptions at the drug store. They asked what we needed and wanted, ordered on line and the item, whatever it was – a new skillet, pair of pants, underwear -magically appeared at our door two days later.

In the meantime, the retirement community where we live suspended all possibilities of interpersonal contact: meetings, book clubs, art classes were canceled, the dining room shut down, all meals would be delivered to our door, fitness center, swimming pool, library and lounges were all closed. We were safe as could be – but isolated and newly aware, acutely aware, of how human contact, human interaction, is so absolutely integral to who we are as human beings. We reflected that in the entirety of our long lives there had not been anything like it.

In some ways our relationships with our family deepened even though we weren’t seeing them. We missed hugging our children and grandchildren, of course, but, like many families, we saw one another through the mysterious miracle of “Zoom.” And each of them supported us with regular phone calls, FaceTime, and even an occasional outside, socially-distanced visit in the dead of winter.

Throughout, I found my heart overflowing with gratitude for them, filling also with hope and the anticipation of the joy of being together again.

It all pales, of course, compared to the deprivation and utter isolation of real prisoners; thinking of Bonhoeffer, obviously, and his poignant letters to his parents, so full of longing love.

Our humility and gratitude deepened the longer it went. After all, we reminded ourselves, we are truly blessed. We have a place to live and enough food to eat. We are safe, albeit isolated, and secure. Also deepening was, and is, our awareness of our very great privilege, that so many, maybe most of the human race is not safe and secure. It almost became guilt.

And, how we missed church, worshipping in a real pew in a real sanctuary, with a real pipe organ and choir, and a sermon from our minister physically right there in the pulpit, and joining our voices in hymns in praise and adoration. At the height of the pandemic even the weekly worship services where we live were canceled. The staff of our church did an amazing job of planning weekly worship for live streaming, first from their own living rooms, but soon thereafter from the chancel of the empty but familiar sanctuary. The organist was there and somehow he and the impressive technicians were able to present wonderful music sung by a quartet of very gifted choir members, each singing from home. I don’t pretend to understand how they pulled that off but I am terribly glad they did. We received it in our home, sitting on the couch at 11:00 Sunday morning, IPad propped up on an end table, as a pure gift from heaven. That experience too, as fine as it was, punctuated again how integral to who we are is being with others.

And so, the first full hug of a daughter, finally allowed to visit in our home, was simply wonderful. “How good and pleasant it is when kindred dwell in unity” the Psalmist wrote and it truly is and we can’t hug them and pat them enough: daughters, sons, sons-law, daughters-in-law, granddaughters, grandsons, their spouses and, astonishingly, twin great-granddaughters and a great-grandson who arrived in the midst of the pandemic. We simply cannot stop touching him, patting his cheeks, holding him close. 

Life was on hold for more than a year but the important lesson the pandemic taught was never to take for granted the common, ordinary blessings of our lives, the unique and precious lives of our loved ones, the incredible gift of our grands and the unexpected miracle of our great-grands. Oh, and live music by an elegant string quartet, led by the Concert Master and Principal Violinist of the Chicago Symphony who came to play in our community. It was as if I had never heard anything so beautiful – J.S. Bach brought tears to my eyes. And a few nights ago, our first venture to a restaurant with dear friends and a son and daughter-in-law. I quite simply wallowed in it: seeing their faces, hearing their voices, even the din of the restaurant which ordinarily I would find irritating sounded just fine, and the food – the food truly tasted better than anything I have ever eaten.

Not to go overboard with this, but it does feel a little like resurrection.


  1. Rob Holben says:

    So wonderful to keep hearing your “voice” over the last year. It continues to inspire me.


  2. Barbara Fountain says:

    Your life this past year sounds just like mine. My children were always willing to help me in fact my son ordered for me a Tovala oven and monthly meals to cook in it. (google it). I too felt closer to my family even though I did not see them in person. The only drawback was that I grew lazy. I got to watching my church service in my pj’s while making my oatmeal. But it is a blessing to be back in church and out and about without a mask. I thank God for the gifted scientists that came up with a vaccine.
    Love and blessings to you and your family.

  3. bandhdmitchellbmm0226 says:

    Amen John! HD

    On Wed, Jun 2, 2021 at 11:57 AM Hold to the Good wrote:

    > John M. Buchanan posted: ” Every experience feels new, right and good and > calls out in me a gratitude for the grace and beauty of the ordinary.For > more than a year we put life on hold. It was March 2020 when our adult > children went into full protection mode, doing everything in th” >

  4. I often find myself getting irritated by people who talk about the pandemic in the past tense. But when you do it, I begin to see that yes, we’re coming out the other side. I don’t mind your resurrection imagery at all. I’m wondering what to resume as if I’m hearing “Go, and sin no more.” The day after my second dose, I’m trying to decide what it all means. Thank you.

  5. Fred Schuler says:

    Smiley face. Not the one with the big grin … just the happy smiling contented one.

  6. Mary Katherine Robinson says:

    Such a blessing to read your words this morning. Thank you, John.

  7. Laura Chen says:

    Dr Buchanan, it is our joy to bring alittle Bach into your ears and heart!
    Laura, Robert,Beatrice, and Noah Chen

  8. Michael M. Kazanjian says:

    Dr. Buchanan, I have read and reread your “Beauty of the Ordinary.” It is beauty incarnate. Its eloquent words resonate with one of your many, many fine sermons, 8 March 1998, “When does the Kingdom of God come?” (Apologies if I have the title wrong). The kingdom has come with your “Beauty of the Ordinary,” the 8 March sermon, and other sermons (and blogs).
    Michael M Kazanjian

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