The ordinary people didn’t make it on my wall.
Like so many other kids, my walls were coated with posters and clippings of stars. Michael Jordan, Bo Jackson, Mark McGwire, Jennifer Capriatti (one of my first pro crushes), Mark Price, Nolan Ryan, Charles Barkley. The list could go on and on.
I wrote phrases on my door and, to the dismay of my mother, my wall. Things like “Just Do It”, “Image is Everything”, “Bo Knows”, “Be Like Mike”, and (ironically) “I am not a role model.” They were catch phrases. They sold shoes, racquets, and cameras. They were bidding for my money, soul, and attention.
Last night I watched the Oscars. The Stars. The every day people that we have exalted to pedestals, billboards, and statues. The spectacular people that made lots of money portraying ordinary people.
I don’t know any of them. But it seemed like some of them were speaking directly to me.
While it was cool to see the segments of stars revealing which stars inspired them to stardom, it was cooler to see what inspired their inner artist.
The true artists remember who they are underneath whateve designer garment they are wearing or whatever jewelry adorns them. The true artists know they are best dressed when they are stripped down to the core of a character.
The first person that caught my attention was a first time winner. Mahershala Ali rattled off the names of several teachers and professors that taught him the craft and how to be “in service to these stories, to these characters.” He talked about being blessed to have the opportunity. He was humble. He was real.
And then there was Viola Davis. She talked about the gift of being an artist in the “only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life.” She then thanked the late, and great, August Wilson whom she said “exhumed and exalted the ordinary people.”
And that’s it right there.
It is the ordinary people that teach us how to live through their trials and errors. Think about it. When stars really reach down into the depths of their art and touch us on a personal level, who are they playing? The common man or woman. That’s what we understand. That’s what has a broad appeal and understanding.
It wasn’t the stars on my wall that taught me the personal life lessons. It was the coaches, teachers, family friends, relatives who took the time to talk to me. It was the ordinary people who guided me in dark times and celebrated the victories. It was the every day people who taught me to find beauty and appreciation in the ordinary.
And though they never found their way onto my wall, the ordinary people found their way into my life.
In real life there are no trophies for living, no ceremony for success, and no yearly pomp and circumstance for the sake of getting dressed up and being seen.
Instead there are those awkward talks while waiting for a ride after practice, the cautionary tales of “has beens” or “never wases” – you know the disposable people that we shouldn’t listen to because they aren’t on posters – that want you to achieve more than they did, the dedication to stay after class or practice to hone a craft, the phone call or letter of encouragement when you didn’t even realize that you needed it, the pat on the back to challenge you to try again after you failed.
All of those things are the gifts of the ordinary people. The people not found on walls or cereal boxes. The people found around the corner, down the hall, or on the other end of the phone line. The ordinary people know how to live and to love. It’s time we listen to them and acknowledge them.
And while I never honored them on my wall as a kid, I hope to honor them in my work as a person – as just one of the ordinary people.