Beyond Mediocrity

  • Maida Korte

“Have you ever felt the longing for someone you could admire? For something, not to look down at, but up to?”
“I’ve felt it all my life,” she said.”  (Ayn Rand – Atlas Shrugged)

          The final scene in the film ‘Amadeus’, Salieri is wheeled down a corridor proclaiming that he is the master of mediocrity and vocally absolves others of this awfulness as he slowly rolls past.  His suffering is somewhat assuaged with the amusement he feels from the ironic truth that he has achieved the pinnacle of average.  I believe we all long to experience excellence in some form and want to move ourselves beyond ordinary.  Our appreciation of excellence provokes the gasp and the quickened pulse at the unattainable aria, the grand jete impossible and high, the last page of the book we could not put down, the crack of the bat and the jump to one’s feet as the ball launches in a perfect arch, the punch that levels at once, the smacked yellow ball sent at 100 miles per hour over a net with nothing but arm for velocity, the phrase that illuminates anew, the song that causes our spirits to soar, the wonder viewed as the crest is achieved, the sweat and brawn and brains and brilliance are all valued as much as achieving such excellence ourselves.  But there is more.  I have come to see that we must include moments in our appreciation of perfect or excellent.  These particles of time are extraordinary and happen when we least expect it and it is often by reflection that we see the mark left behind.  We build the foundations of our lives on these moments.  Experiences that leave us gape-jawed and awe struck are often found not in the land of accomplishment, but hide in more obscure places.  Look around, think back, remember, close your eyes, expand your vision, open your spirit and you will see.

          I was turning five and my mom prepared a summer birthday party that included sewing little round aprons for me and seven of my friends. The aprons were adorned with consecutive rows of pink and red rick-rack, sewed on with a zig-zag stitch of carefully selected and colorful thread.   Little circles that had large ties in the back forming a full and fancy bow.  As each of my friends arrived my mom ceremonially tied one of these aprons onto each little body carefully turning little girls around to tie the bow and the arched strain that followed as each torso twisted to see the finished product behind.   The party was a cookie baking class where we formed and decorated three different types of cookies, decorating with sprinkles and silver balls and frosting squirted out haphazardly in numerous colors and flavors.  Our little hands busy and caked in gooey deliciousness, laughing, rolling, forming, dusting, flour everywhere, little plates of yummy wonder and everyone went home satisfied and pleased with themselves.  My Mom planned this party because she couldn’t enter the kitchen without me THERE and asking “what are we making today?”  I look at old and small faded photographs of me on the patio with my friends, all in matching aprons and I remember the beauty of my mom.  My busy mom with four kids in tow, the oldest still six, and her crowded brain that included writing and reading and poetry and cooking and baking and planning and ever present singing, driving back and forth to the train each day to drop off and then pick up my dad as he journeyed downtown for work, cleaning other people’s houses to earn a few dollars to spend not on herself, making soda fountain specialties on Friday nights at a local restaurant to help my six-day-a-week working father and my mom sewed little aprons for my birthday party when I turned five. 

It is the singular moments of our childhood that form so much of who we are today.  Grateful?  Selfish?  Proud?  Embarrassed?  My birthday party at five years old planted a seed of thankfulness inside of me.  I remember going to bed that night, two sets of bunk beds in one room, my sister Jenny below me, Toddy and Jimbo across the room, with Gilbert and Sullivan playing on the stereo while we held sturdy picture books in our hands.  We were tucked in and prayed over and I believed I was the luckiest girl in the world.   I bow my head today acknowledging my initiation into a gratitude formed long ago that pulled me outside of myself, the best place to be.

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