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The Difference Between Ordinary And Extraordinary Is That Little Extra

July 20, 2020

As you know, the coronavirus has made certain aspects of life more difficult.  Work, education, and leisure have all been transformed due to the need for social distancing.  Under such conditions, we can hardly blame anyone for throwing up their hands and saying, “This is too hard.  I’m just going to wait until the pandemic is over.”  In times like these, it’s easy to feel like we can’t do what we want to do or help the people we want to help.  Like we can’t even make a difference.  That’s why, over the last few months, I’ve tried to remember the following wisdom:

“The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is that little extra.”

– Jimmy Johnson

You see, when we take our ordinary efforts and add just a little bit extra, we can still do amazing things.  With that in mind, I’d like to share a few stories I recently came across that show how, when we go the extra mile, even a virus can’t prevent us from making a difference

In South Dakota, a young girl named Rylee just couldn’t quite get it.1  Try as she might, she couldn’t figure out the answers to her algebra assignment — and she was starting to get frustrated.  In fact, she grew so frustrated that she began to cry.

As difficult as this pandemic is for grown-ups, imagine what it’s like for children.  For months, they’ve had to stay away from teachers and friends.  From the normal, everyday life they’ve always known.  As uncertain as things are for us, I’m sure it’s doubly so for them.

Not far away, Rylee’s teacher, Chris, felt frustrated, too.  He’d been unable to personally teach his students for some time.  Even though they all had access to him via email, some were struggling to make progress.  Rylee was one.  After exchanging multiple emails, Rylee admitted that she flat out didn’t understand the assignment, no matter what Chris said.  Maybe it would be better for her to just give up.

That’s when Chris realized that simply emailing Rylee – or even talking over the phone – wasn’t enough.  To help his student, he’d have to do a little bit extra. 

A few minutes later, Rylee heard a knock on her door.  When she opened the door, there was her teacher, bundled up against the early-spring cold with a whiteboard in one hand and a marker in the other.  Over the next hour, Rylee received a personal algebra lesson through the safety of her screen door.  And Chris received the joy that comes from seeing a student get it.  “That’s the moment every teacher gets into the profession for,” he said.  “That’s why we get up and do what we do.” 

Hundreds of miles away, another teacher faced her own dilemma.  When the lockdown began, Dr. Cornelia Vertenstein knew it would be a long time before her many piano students would be able to return.  Yet she knew there was no other choice.  After all, she is 92 years old. 

But Dr. Cornelia wasn’t about to let age – or a pandemic – stop her from spreading the gift of music.  A Holocaust survivor, this situation was nothing compared to what she experienced as a child.  So, she procured an iPad and figured out how to use FaceTime to conduct remote piano lessons.  Soon, her students learned that every lesson would begin at the exact time – and that the moment she called, they were to be at the piano, with music, notebook, and pencils all lined up. 

But that still left the problem of how to conduct annual spring recitals.  Once again, Dr. Cornelia waved all obstacles away.  As a child, she’d been forced to wear a yellow star everywhere she went.  She’d been banned from going to school.  She’d worked in labor camps.  And through it all, she studied the piano as much as she could.  First under fascism, then communism – until she was finally able to flee to the United States in 1963.  She had never let anything thwart her love for the piano or her determination to master it.  Nor would she let anything prevent her from sharing that love with her students.  

So, Dr. Cornelia learned how to use Zoom.  With the help of one of the parents, she staged a massive, virtual recital program for each of her young students, insisting that no matter what, the show must go on.  But before the music began, she had a message to share:

“With great pride, I introduce my students who prepared themselves with discipline and determination in difficult circumstances.  When I was a little girl, I could not go to public schools because of my religion. So, we created a little school in the basement of an old building, which sometimes had heat and sometimes didn’t.  Great minds and achievements came out of that school, which taught me that in any situation, you can strive, learn, look ahead, and have dreams.” 

For our last story, we head across the pond to the United Kingdom, where a 99-year old man was preparing to take one of the most important walks of his life. 

Captain Tom Moore is a veteran of the Second World War.  Despite his age, he has followed everything going on since the pandemic began.  As someone who fought on the front lines of a war, he keenly understands what it must be like for the doctors and nurses on the front lines of this one.  So, he decided it was high time he did something to help. 

The captain announced that he wanted to raise £1,000 for the staff of England’s National Health Service.  In return, he would walk 100 laps of his 82ft-long garden.  For a 99-year old man, this is an epic journey, but Tom was committed.  So, with the help of his walker, he set forth.  And soon, to his amazement, he learned that the £1,000 he hoped to raise had become £1 million.  Then 2.  Then 3.  Then 4.  Since then, Tom has raised over £32 million pounds for doctors and nurses!  But he didn’t stop there.  As soon as he finished his 100 laps, he vowed to walk another 100. 

He wanted to give a little extra. 

I wish you continued health and happiness – and an extraordinary rest of the summer!