In Praise of Mediocrity

on 12 March 2012

February 7th was the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens.  I celebrated by rereading my favorite biography of him, and as I was reading I was struck again by his genius and the extraordinary gifts with which he was blessed. 

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a genius, or extraordinary in some way.  Not that I really wanted fame or attention, I mostly just wanted to be special in some way.  Alas, I have no extraordinary gifts, I worked hard and went to school and remained rather ordinary.

And then I grew up.  And I came to recognize that genius isn't always a blessing, sometimes it's a curse.  For all his genius, for all his gifts, Dickens was a miserable, miserable man.  He was NEVER happy.  He wanted to be married and to create the kind of family that he felt he should have had, and so he got married and they had children and no sooner did he have his family then he began to resent them.  He separated from his wife and exiled his children by his own deplorable behavior.

He had this amazing gift for language and wrote some of the greatest novels in the English language, and yet he wrote of them in letters to his friends as if they were millstones about his neck.  He loved and hated his audiences, just like he loved and hated his family.

As I've been reading, I've been struck by the realization that sometimes it's a blessing to be ordinary.  Average.  Mediocre.  Not to be a genius, not to be special, to just quietly live an ordinary life.  Because somehow, in the ordinary is where we find happiness.  Peace.  Contentment.  The things that Dickens never found.

I finally killed him off last week.  I have to say, by the time I got to the end of his life, I was just RELIEVED to arrive at his death.  He was so unforgiving, so unyielding to any way other than his own.  For all his liberality, he was incredibly close-minded.  And as I usually do with his novels, I was struck again by his life how little we've really changed, which, when you think about the progress of human history, is really quiet sad.


Cel and JP said...

we kind of got on this subject in Relief Society yesterday. Not Charles Dickens, but being average, which sometimes equates with humility. We talked about fishermen and God's use of all worthy men and women, not just the ones with "the training." Sad for Dickens, though. I never knew that. Never cared for anything he wrote. I know. Criminal. I was the black sheep in my family. :) :)

Brett said...

That's so interesting that Dickens was so miserable. Should I have known that?

And PS> Don't ever, not ever think you're ordinary. Nothing about you is ordinary, my dear friend.