During a recent English class, we watched a documentary about the famous philosopher Jacques Derrida. At one point in the film, he opens his fridge, pulls out a container, takes out a couple pieces of eggplant, arranges them on a plate, and pours a stream of olive oil onto the slices. The image stuck with me not because it had some philosophical importance or because it was visually appealing but because he so calmly prepared sliced eggplant with a whole lot of olive oil. There’s nothing wrong with small vegetarian meals, but I can’t help but think that I have never, not once in my whole life, removed the glass stopper from a decanter of olive oil and poured its contents onto leftover sliced eggplant.
When people think of “carpe diem,” or “YOLO,” or whatever kids say these days, they usually think of skydiving or road trips, typical bucket list activities. “Trying new things” bears the connotation of trying exciting new things. This assumption is odd, when you think about it, because there are as many mundane things that I’ve never done as there are exciting things. Although it’s true that I’ve never been to space or flown a plane or scaled a cliff, at certain moments it occurs to me that I have also never arranged banana slices into a smiley face. I have never carried a purple bag with a dinosaur on it. I don’t think that I’ve ever used the word “turtle” while in the senior lounge. And why would I? There’s no danger or excitement or necessity associated with those activities.
I have never made vegetarian lasagna with seasonal vegetables and hoop cheese. I have never pretended to be a palm tree while standing next to one. There are so many things that I will never do or make or think of, just because I would never think to think of them. Maybe we put daring things on bucket lists not because they’re any more important than mundane things but because they’re the things we think of. Perhaps one day I’ll cover a balloon with paper-mâche and then re-paint it to look like a balloon again. Is that a huge goal of mine? Is that the kind of achievement that I could put on a college application, one that I could say has been inspired and informed by my passions and interests? No and no. But that shouldn’t mean that it’s not a worthwhile pursuit.
In encouraging passions, life goals, big dreams––“shooting for the stars” so to speak––we sometimes ignore or demean the mundane. We forget the little things that tie the big things together, about all the funny quips we’ve never made, the places where we’ve never hopped on one foot, the sweaters we’ve never worn, the eggplant we’ve never poured olive oil on. It’s not the unforgettable but rather the forgettable experiences that differentiate us from one another, that make us who we are, that make our everyday different from anyone else’s everyday.
We often say that our differences lie in our interests, our backgrounds, our talents, and we define these distinctions as diversity. I think that diversity means that one man can casually pull eggplant out of the fridge, drench it with olive oil and eat it; this is his “normal,” and it is so close and yet so far from my routine. We each have our own “normal,” our own lists of mundane things that we have and haven’t done, that we do every day or once a year. When we acknowledge these little differences, when we try new, seemingly inconsequential things, when we see that our normal is not normal to anyone else, we seize the ordinary, mundane moments that together constitute our days. Isn’t that truly carpe diem?