The Psalm of the Common Man

For the past few days, I know, this blog has been a little on the edgy and skittish side. Those of you reading me must have developed an image of me tap-tap-tapping away at my keyboard, hair askew, wild-eyed with a caffeine overdose, hyperventilating and unable to focus.

And yeah, that image would be just about right.

I apologize if I’ve seemed a bit out there. While I was under the pressure of a couple of deadlines, Christmas and family commitments, I let email correspondence and other concerns go rather to hell and then this week I looked up at it all and felt like I was the proverbial hapless clerk about to be flattened by a pile of files.

All of this was apparent in my writing which, for a few days, has been uneven and unfocused. My Li’l Bro Thom – a fellow who understands the concept of high stress and yet manages, through faith, to deal with it and still remain sane and reasonable – noticed.

“You’re writing like you need ritalin,” he joked.

Normally, I would have laughed, but when a criticism is really on-target, even if it is offered gently, it can really sting, and rather than laugh I emailed back an unhappy emoticon and a pathetic, “go ahead, make my day even worse.”

“What’s wrong,” he responded.

There followed a rambling email that was the equivalent of a harried woman blubbering and waving her hands about like a demented emu. I spilled!

“My husband has a job opportunity that is very exciting but will mean more travel! I’m becoming a sentimental goose who keeps seeing her grown children as cute 6 year olds before her eyes – how did my life go by so quickly! And I don’t think anyone is even reading me except my Elder Son’s Sweet Girlfriend – and I think she only reads me because she’s mystified by me, or something. Sometimes I feel like…all I’m doing is writing words and words and they don’t matter. I know you were joking, and any other day I would have laughed…but I just feel so out of sorts. And I got my hair colored and I’m SO grey, all of a sudden! You men don’t understand what it’s like!”

“You need a retreat,” he counciled.

“Yes, and chocolate,” I concurred, wondering if Buster had any about for his Eagle Scout fund-raiser. “What about you,” I asked, feeling immeasurably better for spilling, and knowing he is carrying a very heavy load in many ways. “How is it all going?”

“Well…we take every day as it comes, right?” He wrote back. After going into some details on a family matter that is causing him real grief he concluded:

Sometimes, I hate my life

But mostly, things are good.

I looked at those words for a long time and then wrote back, “David could not have written a better psalm.”

One of the greatest things about becoming a Benedictine Oblate is that we are encouraged to pray at least some part of the Liturgy of the Hours (aka The Divine Office, aka The Opus Dei) every day. Immersing oneself in the psalms is a remarkable experience because within those 150 poems resides the entire human condition in all of its lunacy and sorrow, its agony and rapture and woe. To read the psalms daily is to be reminded that no human expression of feeling is unique to the rest of humanity, that our interpersonal kinship is not really narrow – rather it is as broad as we allow it to be.

We live in a very polarized age wherein we too often, too-willingly segregate ourselves with an “us good, them bad” mentality. That is not new, of course. Humans have always drawn their lines of demarcation between themselves and others – mostly either because of ethnicity or language or creed. Lately, as ethnicities blend and languages fade, the lines seem increasingly to be drawn mostly over ideologies disguised as creeds. Or creeds disguised as ideologies.

It’s distressing to see. It is terribly distressing to watch what appears to be an inexorable move toward national self-destruction in the pursuit of “squashing the other side,” when in fact both sides are America’s, and an America without healthy discourse and respectable, honorable and loyal dissent will not need an outside enemy to render her impotent and eventually inconsequential.

The truth is, no matter who we are, no matter what our economic situations, our familiar realities, our backgrounds, our educations, our failures or our potentialities – beyond all that separates us, beyond our own drawn lines, we are all the same. In our quieter moments, we sing a nearly silent, common psalmody. It is the psalm of the Common Man, and everyone sings it, no matter how “uncommon” they believe themselves to be:

We take each day as it comes
Sometimes I hate my life
But mostly things are good

Mindful people try to be grateful for the good things in their lives, but it is easy to overlook what is positive and dwell on the negative – to lose sight of all one has, for the want of what one seems to lack. It is an ancient part of our human condition – it existed in Eden.

In a monastic house, psalms are chanted by the community in turn. They sit dexter and sinister, right and left, and each side takes turns, verse by verse, down the psalms.

Left and right, they sing. They weave psalms and canticles, readings and collects, prayers and praise into one marvelous whole, and in doing so dexter and sinister – united in purpose – become one.

We take each day as it comes. Sometimes we hate our lives. But mostly things are good.

Together, now!

WELCOME: Readers from NRO’s The Corner. While you are here please look around. Today we’re also talking about the film The Pursuit of Happyness and George Bailey, the Eason Jordan, Michelle Malkin adventure, who I’m voting for and why My Dog Likes Bananas. Feel free to nose around the archives. If you’re looking for Christmasy ruminations, well…try here or here or here. Enjoy!

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • stephanie

    I read you every day Anchoress! Usually pop over more than once! *hugs*

  • stephanie

    And do I even have to say I’m voting like a liberal? ;-)

  • Russ

    Amen to the “psalm of the Common Man.”

    This evangelical has enjoyed your writing for over a year (maybe two).

    Let Buster known that if he ever gains the knowledge to understand women, he will be wiser than Solomon. He will also become rich explaining them to the rest of the male population

  • RLC

    The idea that human negativism existed in Eden is mind-boggling, and as I think about it, quite plausible.

  • Ellen

    Anchoress, I would not miss a day of your wonderful writing. Also, I have been saying at least morning prayer from the Divine Office for several months now, and it has really made a change in my life. Keep on doing what you’re doing. We love you and we pray for you.

  • aura

    If only I could remember several times a day that “we are all the same” and that “mostly things are good”, my live would be significantly better. I am reminded now, so I look forward to a great day.

  • MaxedOutMama

    !! A huge number of people read you, Anchoress. Another great post. Isn’t the entire US Constitution a declaration of faith in the common man, and in the wisdom developed through a common life?

  • HNAV

    “how did my life go by so quickly!”
    a sign you are doing well in life.
    when it goes painfully slow, you would beg to have more…
    best wishes.

  • Peregrine John

    Actually, we men do know about it. We’re just not allowed to talk about it, that’s all.

    Wow, finally moved to comment on this one – meaning I had to register at last. Perhaps because I was also moved to tears – meaning I was happy no one else was in the office at the moment.

  • mbt


    I visit nearly every day, I’m just not much of a commenter. I want you to know you’ve reawakened my desire to pray and I have prayed for your husband, the President, lots of things! My prayers are usually of gratititude for all the goodness in my life, but awarness of other’s needs is equally important. Thank you for your inspired writings and hilarious sense of humor. Really, today you made me laugh out loud :)

  • Obis_Sister

    Hooray for The Anchoress! :-)

  • m2

    this really hit home for me – what a powerful statement your brother said. my brother tends to do that, too — i will write a biography and he will say one or two things in response that leave me looking at the monitor, slack-jawed.

    i am here too, dear anchoress. i just don’t comment very often.

  • Sarah Kuvasz

    Dear Miss A,

    Know you remain my all-time favorite blogger. Know I excerpt your stuff and send it to my friends. Know you are in my prayers.


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  • dadmanly

    Amen. On all counts.

    Keep up the good work. I came via the Corner, but have admired your work greatly. It is very gratifying to see God at work in so many enriching ways. Thanks for letting us in on your reflections.

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