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Familiarity and Contempt

When I need to travel by plane, I often catch a shuttle to the airport. This is one of those little buses that will pick me up at my door and drop me at the terminal. The service is a little bit expensive (and getting more so), at least compared to having Aileen drive me, but the cost is well worth it when compared to waking the family at 5 AM and bundling them into the car. That just does not work out well.

A couple of months ago, when heading from the airport to home, I noticed a little magazine in the seat pocket ahead of me and, with nothing else to do, dug it out and gave it a read. It was a tourist guide to Southern Ontario, focusing on Toronto and the cities and towns surrounding it. Naturally, I flipped about halfway through to the “O” section to see what the editors would say about my home town of Oakville. They had a lot to say, as it happens. They mentioned the beauty of the old neighborhoods along the shores of Lake Ontario where many of the homes have stood for 100 years or more and where you need not even apply unless you’ve got at least seven digits to put toward your home. They mentioned the main street with all its quaint shops, boutiques and cafes and suggested that a person could easily spend a day there browsing, shopping, eating, snapping photographs. They wrote of the beautiful harbor, of some of the provincial parks and of the little museum dedicating to preserving the history of the area. They declared Oakville an exceptionally beautiful town and a must-visit for anyone who happens to be in the area.

As I finished up the Oakville section, I couldn’t help but think, “Wow. Oakville sounds like a really great place!” The editors’ description of my town opened my eyes, or re-opened my eyes, to some of the beauty I have lost in its familiarity. I see so many of these things so often that they have lost their interest, lost what sets them apart. It brought to mind the old cliche, “Familiarity breeds contempt.” When I see those grand old homes, I see inflated real estate prices and snobby kids who attend tens-of-thousands-of-dollars-a-year private schools that pretty much set them up for life in the local old boy network (and where their high schools are called “colleges” just to set them apart). When I see Lakeshore Road, the main street, I think of overpaid merchandise and far too little parking. I have rarely ventured into the local parks and have never set foot inside the museum. I suppose I’ve pretty much taken my town for granted. In all its familiarity it has eventually generated contempt. It’s just Oakville, right?

I would like to say that since that day I’ve taken a renewed interest in my town and have begun to see it for what it is. Maybe in some ways I have. The last time I went down to the old part of town I did pause to take in some of those grand old homes and to appreciate their beauty. And there is beauty in those homes—more so, I think, than the new builds that fill so much of the rest of the town. We recently went down to the edge of Lake Ontario, right near the museum, to shoot some family photographs and couldn’t help but note the beauty of the parks and the unique character of the old part of the town. It is picturesque, without a doubt.

But even more than helping me appreciate the town I live in, simply reading this simple little magazine began to open my eyes to some of the other things in life I take for granted, some of the other things I’ve allowed to become too familiar. Some of God’s greatest gifts to me are the ones that are closest to me and it is discouraging that these are the very ones with which I am most likely to grow too familiar—so familiar that they begin to seem so drab, so…normal. The remarkable can so soon become unremarkable just by its closeness. The greatest gift can fade just because it is so accessible. Discontentment seems native to the human heart, at least in this sinful world. And I think we all are prone to allow the greatest, closest gifts to fade simply by virtue of their familiarity.