“The Office” and The Beauty of Ordinary Things

“There’s a lot of beauty in ordinary things.” – Pam Beasley Halpert

The series finale of The Office aired last night and fans of Jim & Pam, Dwight & Angela, Kevin, Toby, Phyllis, etc. said goodbye to a fairly significant show in the history of television. It was one of those shows that sneaks up on you because for a while, you think that you are just watching a comedy, but in the end, you find that you were watching a commentary on our lives and how love and hope and joy and everything that we live for is actually found in the beauty of ordinary things with ordinary people that you never thought you would ever grow to love.

Over the years, I have watched The Office because of the awkward moments and the dry humor, which fits me pretty well. But, after going through the series on Netflix, it dawned on me that the appeal of this show was that it was one story of what happens when a group of people live and work and share their lives together for 9 years (7 years in the case of Michael) and are fundamentally changed by what seems to be an ordinary experience. At the end of it all, they become something like a family and they find that the very people that used to drive them crazy are the ones that they will miss the most.

“I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them.” Andy Bernard

Shows like The Office have an appeal because they capture something real about our daily lives and our hopes and frustrations and what we are all wanting: relationships. We, as a people want to be known and loved and we want to know others. The characters in The Office, much like the show that it reminds me of the most in its diverse ensemble cast, Cheers, do not have much in common other than the fact that they work for the Dunder-Mifflin Paper Company. They share cubicles and tasks and projects and meetings in the conference room and office parties, but other than that, they go home to their own lives. But, over the course of many years and trials and triumphs, diverse people with nothing in common become friends – and then they become family.

I will not make some kind of allusion to God here, even though my blog is usually theological in tone. God was not a character in The Office. There was no real redemptive quality. Marriages happened (Jim & Pam/Dwight & Angela) and marriages broke up (Stanley, Angela and The Senator). People came and went and there was success and failure. Michael Scott, the original main character, dreamed of a wife and children and he finally found it and then moved to Colorado. While it was not religious/spiritual in any sense, the coming together of people who were very different but found joy in their relationships with each other does remind me of what happens in the church – or, what is supposed to happen. We end up journeying through life together with people that we do not always have much in common with. We learn to love people who are difficult to love sometimes and find that we are also loved when we cannot even love ourselves. Day after day, week after week, we go through life and share birthdays and weddings and holidays and children’s classes and potluck dinners and sickness and sorrow and prayer and Scripture and hope, and ultimately, salvation.

Eugene Peterson once said that we do not go to church to hang out with our friends – with the people that we would choose. We go to church to hang out with God’s friends, with the people that he chooses. When I was watching The Office, I thought about that and thought about how the relationships that I saw on a TV show that were not real and that were full of both joy and anger, generosity and pettiness, were riveting because they reminded me so much of real life and the characters that you face in your own office, or neighborhood, or family – or in your church. I was reminded of how much we need people – people different from us who will walk through life with us and who will show us and help us see the beauty of ordinary things.

We spend so much time looking for the spectacular and hoping for something great to happen to lift us out of our boredom that we miss the beauty of ordinary things right in front of us. Stanley had his pretzel day once a year. Dwight got excited about being safety officer. Michael loved the office parties and the conference room meetings and for all his quirky oddness, he knew how to lead an office to success. Jim always wanted to leave and go on to greater things but, in the end he found what he always wanted and needed in that dingy office. Everyone had a role both in the company and in each other’s lives. It was nice.

In writing about this, I am simply saying that a longing for community and friendship and relationship in the midst of our daily lives is at the core of who we are as people. The longing for it and the receiving of love from others is part of what makes us human. There was a lot of failure and brokenness evident in The Office and it was not all pretty, but the message conveyed is one that is fairly surprising in America in 2013. People matter, even the people you don’t like and that you find odd and who are nothing like you at all – and, those people can become your family because there is something that unites us all down deep – a longing for love and relationships and community – that we all keep trying to get to beneath the clutter and noise and our own struggles.

Maybe God put it there.

 

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