Y: “You’ve Got Mail” – Why Ordinary Characters Are Something Quite Special

Guy Looking Up

“Small minds are concerned with the extraordinary, great minds with the ordinary.”

Blaise Pascal


As a high school student, I found myself spending the night alone in an Intensive Care Unit. One of my lungs had spontaneously deflated while I was lifting heavy boxes of books at work, and the doctors had been forced to surgically insert a chest tube to fill my lung with air again. After visiting hours my family was asked to leave, and I spent the longest night of my life in that hospital room. The nurses visited occasionally, but there was a critical patient next door who required most of their attention. Unable to sleep, I longed to talk with someone I knew – someone familiar. Grabbing the television remote, I flipped through the channels until I found You’ve Got Mail, the 1998 movie release. While romantic comedy may not have been my first choice, it was so good to watch a movie about ordinary people living ordinary lives. And so I spent the evening in the company of Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, one of the most ordinary (and incredible) couples ever filmed.

Why do we find this acting duo to be so endearing? Because they are real people taking on the role of real characters. They’re ordinary enough to be the couple next door, and this familiarity makes us smile and captures our hearts.

In You’ve Got Mail, Tom Hanks plays Joe Fox – a workaholic employer who doesn’t have a clue about how to go about living a real life, but this is something he desperately wants. Enter Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan), who has incredible energy and zest, but who just can’t seem to catch a break. The fireworks that result as the two get to know one another are extremely ordinary, and that is what makes them seem so incredible. Because the story feels realistic, and attainable.

If you’re a writer, then you know that writing “ordinary” characters who everyone seems to relate to is not as simple as it sounds. But you also know that coming up with such characters is an essential ingredient to successful writing projects.

We love ordinary characters because we feel ordinary ourselves, and love to cheer as ordinary characters turn out to have greater potential locked away inside them than anyone ever dreamed. These stories encourage us – they give us hope.

They also point to Jesus, the most ordinary of men (Isaiah 53:2 says “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him”), who also happened to be the very Son of God. And in this incredibly ordinary and approachable Person, we find hope for the redemption of all mankind.

So the next time someone calls you “ordinary,” be sure to thank them. For, as Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan can tell you, being ordinary is something quite special indeed.


The Classics.jpg

This post was submitted as part of the A to Z Challenge, where participants agree to write an article that corresponds to each letter of the alphabet, posting every day of the month of April (except Sundays).

Here on The Artistic Christian,  my theme for the month is The Classics.  Each day I’ll examine a book, film, or work of art that has become a beloved classic and discuss what has made it such a success, and what eternal themes it contains that Christian artists can use as modern illustrations.

For daily reflections from my personal travels around the world, check out my companion blog, Everyday Musings, where my theme for April is Reflections From Around the World.


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