C.S. Lewis wrote a poem entitled In Praise of Solid People that for many decades has remained a favorite of mine. The opening stanza reads:
Thank God that there are solid folk
Who water flowers and roll the lawn,
And sit and sew and smoke,
And snore all through the summer dawn.
The poem continues to describe such solid folk as ones who “feel the things that all men feel” and who “think in well-worn grooves of thought.” In the poem, Lewis notes that there was once a time he would have scorned the simple lives the solid folk lead. Yet, he learned to appreciate and admire their stability and how, unlike many who suppose themselves to be more enlightened, they are not “fretted by desire.”
I remember back in my early to mid- 20’s that this poem inspired me to write a poem I would call In Praise of the Mundane. That poem was never written. I may have started a line or two, but that was a long time ago and I really cannot recall. However, the title and the idea behind the title have remained in my ethos and general worldview throughout my life.
The word “mundane” is usually associated in people’s minds with boring or dull. But the word itself comes from French and Latin words that basically refer to what is this-worldly or ordinary. Many things we would consider mundane certainly fall in the category of unexciting. We get up, we go to work, we pay the bills, we engage in routine activities. Not exactly a thrill-ride.
There is something to be said, of course, for working hard as you look forward to your days off or getting a vacation away from it all. We engage in the ordinary so we can, if just for a brief time, enjoy the extraordinary. But what I want to communicate here is that there is something to be said for the mundane. Not all that is mundane is dull or meaningless routine.
Back all those years ago. I used to use the terms “continuities” and “discontinuities” to express my ideas. Continuities have a certain comforting familiarity about them that give our lives some stability and peace. Continuities would align with things we could call the mundane. “Discontinuities” are those unexpected things that come along outside the ordinary ebb and flow of living.
No one likes bad discontinuities—a job loss, tragedy, divorce, disease, etc. But I have observed throughout my life that some people thrive on discontinuities that they perceive are to be preferred to the dull, predictable continuities of everyday life. Give me something exciting rather than the mundane.
In “praising” the mundane, I do not intend to set up the mundane over the exciting discontinuities of life. As with most things, there is a place and time for both. And that is the point. Life should have a balance of both, each in its proper place.
Another way to think of it is that it is good to have a foundation of familiarities, but also a willingness to venture out into the unfamiliar and expand your world. After all, there is so much wonderful world out there to be discovered.
By familiarities, I refer to those mundane things like familiar places and faces, routines that keep us on track, and those activities we find comforting (like reading a book or taking a walk). The unfamiliar, by contrast, would be most anything that lifts of out of ourselves and challenges our comfortableness.
These are the continuities and discontinuities in life. Both do us good.
I would argue, however, that the discontinuities should be tethered and secured to the continuities. Even more, life can flourish and thrive with only continuities and no discontinuities, but the converse is not true. If you have nothing but discontinuities in your life (of either the positive or negative variety), and no continuities, you will likely go insane. Floating in space might be super cool and exciting, but if there is not a ground to which to return and plant your feet, floating in space would be rather terrifying I would think.
Another way to refer to discontinuities would be the “highs and lows” of life. No one likes the lows, but some want nothing but the highs. Zeus forbid they find pleasure in the ordinary! Everything must be new or exciting. All the time.
Look at the blue line as continuities. You are moving ever upward and growing as a human being, but the pace is slow and steady. But if you stay the course, you will look back and see that you have ascended to great heights. Now look at the orange line as discontinuities. If you depend on those for your happiness, you are always going to be up and down. When the good continuities come, you will be on a high. Those can’t be sustained indefinitely, so you go back down. But if you maintain your connection to the blue line, you can derive great pleasure from the high points on the orange line and you can weather and survive the low points.
This is why I praise the mundane. Give me that regular cup of coffee in the morning or a walk in the evening with my love. Give me a book or some music I have listened to a hundred thousand times over, decade after decade. Give me the familiar taste of a garden tomato. If I never have a high again, I am content. Whatever lows may come my way, I will be okay. Your mundane will likely be different from my mundane. Ask your doctor (or your heart) which mundane is right for you. But what mundane you settle into, look for contentment in the ordinary, in the mundane.
Do I want new highs? You bet! There are places I want to travel and things I want to see. There are things I know I will want to do even if I don’t know what they are yet. I want new experiences. You can live a thousand lifetimes and still never experience all that world out there to be discovered. I want to discover as much as my means and abilities will permit.
But I write here in praise of the mundane; to be one of the “solid people” Lewis wrote of. I am happy living in the mundane—the worldly, the earthy. Where my feet find the ground.