Sometimes it’s easy to see the bad things that knock me on my knees or the good things that are so tremendous I don’t feel like I could ever compare. I am not talking about natural events out of our control. I’m talking about what humans are doing to make each others’ lives better or worse.
Knock out bad stuff includes mass shootings, holocausts, cruel dictators and kidnappers who keep people imprisoned for years.
People who make me feel inadequate include Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Mother Teresa and their sweeping acts of the best of humanity.
But recently one of my favorite kid lit authors, Peg Kehret responded to the Sandy Hook shooting in a way that made me wonder if the smaller things matter more than I give them credit for:
“Whenever something bad happens, I try to put some good back into the world. My gestures are small, but done with love. Nothing any of us can do will bring back the children and teachers who were killed today in Connecticut but if each person does an act of kindness tomorrow, and the next day, and the next, we will reclaim a tiny fraction of what was taken from us all.”
In my conversations with my friend and pastor Shirley DeLarme, she said that the small choices build up to make a big difference. She noticed we often focus on big life decisions when the tiny choices we make about how we spend our day matter more than if we are able to feed the world. I’ve often wondered what tiny choices people have made that led them to do very hurtful things. For myself, I can see that just allowing myself to dwell on little hurts makes a big impact. When I replay a painful discussion over and over in my mind, I build a ‘case’ against the person I’m upset with and end up bringing myself to dark places I don’t want to stay in.
I’ve also seen how small choices improved lives in the past few months.
Recently, I asked the people of my church to help a couple students and felt awed by the response I got. A lot of people made small choices to help and it made a big difference. It will make a big difference to my students, and it also made a big difference to me and my view of the world.
In September, one of my dearest friends passed away. On the morning he had died, I went to see his wife Ruth with my 2 year old son. As she stood still in shock from losing her husband of over 50 years, my little boy began to play with a crazy kitchy singing fish. The goofy thing belted out Bobby McFerrin tunes and Quinton giggled. The corners of Ruth’s mouth went up and a small sliver of sunshine made its way through in the form of toddler’s joy. We couldn’t stop her husband Rich from dying. But we could offer a small piece of laughter.
Even the big decisions come after we’ve made many tiny choices. When my husband and I decided to buy a new house, it was after hours of talking to our families, driving through neighborhoods on our time off and doing a thousand tiny things to our first house to get it ready to sell.
So I am dedicating my 2013 to the small stuff. The small stuff that brings big rewards in the kindness I can offer to others and to my own self. I hope my actions will bring back what Peg Kehret described and I hope that sweating the small stuff makes the world a better place. I know that I can manage the small stuff anyway. And that’s got to make a difference – more than if I let myself feel doomed by the evil deeds or dwell on how I don’t compare to the saints.
My Russian speaking students have a saying I have always adored: шаг за шагом (shchak za shchagom). It’s said with all of those consonant combinations that I adore about Russian. It means ‘step by step,’ and it’s been ringing in my head lately. Perhaps this is again related to Peg Kehret and her book Small Steps about how she overcame polio as a child. Little things can become life changing.
May you all find your own small steps.