I have this friend named Dan. He's a pretty cool guy, as people go. I've never met anyone like him, but that's not saying much, since I have never met anyone who is like anyone else. Anyway, I like him because he occasionally says things that blow my mind. Often, this is quite accidental on his part, and usually the accidental ones are more fun, but sometimes they're intentional, like the other day when he sent me this text: "Think about this when you get a chance: the farther away you move from a 'normal' life the more challenging it is to connect with 'normal' people."

Okay, I'm thinking.

(I love it when people do this. I wish I had someone who could be my Challenging Thought of the Day Person. Send me a text like that at 6AM everyday and watch my brain supernova...)

What I'm asking is: what is normal? Let's define some terms. First, kick out the connotations of "average" and "ordinary," because those are not the point. The point is perspective. Consider the difference between a giant and a dwarf. They see the same things, but from totally different altitudes, and that makes a huge difference in what they perceive as problems and how they go about finding solutions. For the dwarf, reaching things stored overhead is a problem that requires more steps than it does for the giant who does not need an intermediary assistance. Likewise, for the giant, a game of Limbo involves a challenge of flexibility that a dwarf (and most likely everybody else) would laugh to see.

The difference between normal and abnormal comes down to a difference of perspectives. The former is trapped in the mundane, like those people whose lives are spent waiting: for lunch break, for the work day to end, for the weekend, for summer vacation, lather, rinse, repeat. They spend years in the hamster wheel of anticipation until one day they fall off and wake up to find that they've anticipated away hours of valuable heartbeat. "She hates time, / Make it stop; / When did Motley Crue become classic rock?" The minutes tick away silently, and we miss them unless we make a point of holding our eyes open.

The abnormal perspective, which is probably better termed "extraordinary," is that which dwells in two time streams simultaneously. While it is also aware of the present, it is not a passive participant being carried by an inexorable current. Oh, the current still will not be stopped, it is true. But the extraordinary perspective is also cognizant at a higher level of the impact of the past and a vision for the future, both of which can be brought to bear upon the present moments, shaping and directing them as a potter molds the clay on the wheel.

The distinction between the two perspectives is fluid enough that the same person may readily drift between them at different points in his life based on a variety of circumstances. In part, this fluctuation occurs because an extraordinary perspective requires energy to maintain, and often we find it easier to get lost in an opium dream than to face reality head-on and exercise practicality and patience over time.

And the thing is, Dan was right. When you dare to be different, it can be very, very isolating. I once wrote about what it would be like if we didn't know that spring follows winter and that all the plants that seemed dead come back to life. In that world, the high priest would be the farmer, for who has more faith than the man who casts some of his precious store of food into the ground, buries his treasure where no one can see, and then prophesies the miracle of future abundance? Like Noah waiting for rain, he would be shunned as a dreamer at best or an idiot at worst, because tomorrow's bread cannot feed today's hunger. There is a degree of discipline and sacrifice that are necessary, and without the immediate prospect of reward, we do not always have the gumption to deny fleeting pleasure. For those who do have that gumption, the common grounds for conversation begin to dwindle, and eventually, you figure out who your real friends are or maybe you get new ones, because neither perspective finds it easy to understand the other.

It is never easy to be different. But then, easy was never as much fun anyway.

Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win... Therefore, I run in such a way as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.  {1 Corinthians 9:24, 26-27}

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