Throughout elementary school, I was one of the few students from my grade who participated in the Enrichment Program, or EP as we called the gifted and talented program. Every week, we would spend time in the “EP room” with Mrs. Prouty, completing activities designed to challenge our minds and creativity. We were a competitive group, often comparing scores and grades to prove who was really the “smartest.”
There were many reasons to enjoy EP. I loved being excused from our regular (sometimes boring) classes to participate in the more challenging reading and writing tasks. One year we produced a television news show. The next we took a field trip to watch a stage production of The Hobbit.
But most weeks were spent on less exciting assignments. If we completed the assigned activity, we were welcome to start another task or engage in a challenge with a fellow student. In third grade “B,” the resident genius, would always finish assignments early and would usually go off to read the dictionary. If I also finished early, I would sometimes quiz him on spelling words. That is how I first saw the word “extraordinary.” Not being familiar with the written form of the word, I pronounced it “extra-ordinary.”
“Please Denise. If you aren’t going to say it right, of course I’ll know how to spell it! Its ex-TROR-di-nary.”
He stretched out the syllables to emphasize his point. B, who had skipped a grade, often adopted an “I can’t believe you don’t know this” tone when saying such comments to prove he had the right to be in EP with the rest of us.
The reason I mispronounced “extraordinary” as a young girl when I first saw it in writing was because I knew the word in the context of the song “Extraordinary” from the musical Pippen. The show is about a man’s search for meaning in his life. Pippin sees himself as an extraordinary person and he wants to lead an extraordinary life. He sings about this in the second act, and every time he pronounces the word (all ten times) he sings “extra-ordinary.”
Yesterday, my friends and I saw the touring production of the musical Pippin at a local theater. As I watched Pippen search for meaning, singing “Extra-ordinary” as two separate words instead of “ex-TROR-di-nary,” I smiled at the forgotten memory of the EP class from years ago. Here’s a recording from the original cast from 1972, as performed by John Rubenstein in case you don’t know the song.**
What makes any of us extraordinary?
People often claim my ability to live a full life with a mobility disability is remarkable or “extraordinary.” If you define the word as the Merriam-Webster dictionary does, “going beyond what is usual, regular or customary,” perhaps my life is exceptional. Most people don’t manage a staff of twelve Personal Assistants just so their basic activities of daily living are met. Most people don’t bake for three weeks straight in December so they can give plates of cookies to thirty seven friends at Christmas. Most people don’t write at least 500 words a day for 267 days (and counting!) in a row.
Yes, those are not “regular” actions for the majority, but do any of them make me or anyone else extraordinary, or just different? What if they are regular activities for me? Does that mean I need to do other things to make me extraordinary?
If we pronounce “extraordinary” as EXTRA ordinary – then it gives us a clue as to what we need to change in order to build an extraordinary life. We can’t wait for life to just BE extraordinary. We have to craft it in the every day. Instead of just letting life happen, and rolling along with what comes our way, we must make decisions which support our passions and goals.
Extraordinary lives don’t come from war, sex or power, as Pippen learns throughout the musical. Running away with the circus doesn’t make him extraordinary. At the end, Pippen realizes choosing the love in front of him is the extraordinary act.
Recognizing what is unique and remarkable about our lives, then appreciating, admiring and cultivating those things helps us develop extraordinary lives. I am a fan of gratitude lists as a means of recording all the many reasons to be thankful. Writing down the reasons you are grateful can also help you view your life through a new lens – almost like a visitor seeing things for the first time.
When I took the time to write and read a gratitude list last night, I didn’t see the gaps in my personal care schedule or the incomplete projects waiting for me at my job.
What I saw was an independent life, full of love from friends and family, with opportunity to provide service to others.
What makes your life extraordinary? How do you craft an extraordinary life? Share your tips in the comments below!
**As an aside, this Broadway geek was in heaven yesterday because not only did we get to see John Rubenstein perform the role of Charles, but we saw Adrienne Barbeau (who was nominated for a Tony Award for her portrayal of Rizzo in Grease) as Berthe! Contented sigh.