Little Things and Simple Gifts

(Author’s note:  The first two paragraphs did not appear in Bev’s Bedford Gazette column):

I dearly love my sister-in-law Janet Barton, and I hope she’s still not mad at me for surprising her with a ride on Space Mountain, the indoor, dark roller coaster at Disney World, Florida.  It was the middle 70s and Jack, Janet, and all three kids (Karen, Jim, & Kim) came for a visit to Longwood where I lived for a minute in time and of course we had to go to Disney.

Having been to Disney a half dozen times while living in Florida, my all time favorite attraction was It’s A Small World.  To me, a young adult at the time, that attraction was the epitome of magical in the Magic Kingdom, and the most magical place on earth.  The ethereal miniatures hanging from the ceiling and covering every inch of space throughout the ride were breathtaking.  I’m certain I would still be captivated today, should I visit.

Bohemian-Austrian poet & novelist, Rainer Rilke said, “…if you have this love of inconsiderable things…everything will become easier, more coherent and somehow more conciliatory for you…”  Oh my, couldn’t we all use a little more ease, understanding, and a little less antagonism, these days?

Has life sped up? So many of us have no room for the little things, the things hardly anybody sees – pedestrian things that take slowness to perceive and absorb.

When I walk near or in the woods, I notice little bits of trash and usually pick it up.  I know why I see it and the people that litter while going by in their cars and trucks pay no attention.  It’s up close from my pedestrian point of view and quite distant, abstract and out of mind from theirs – which is speeding by on their way to something else.  When you’re a pedestrian, you notice little things – they’re in scale.

For example, I once heard a thunderous knocking on wood while walking through the forest.  I stopped, looked up and spotted bits of plant debris falling from the tree tops.  Eventually, while focusing on the spot of falling plant matter, I was surprised to see the smallest black and white woodpecker making all that racket.  Little things can make a big impact.

That same day, I sat on a rock to dictate some thoughts into my phone’s notepad, when I saw a delicate daddy long-leg spider and thought I should snap a photo of it, but before I could do so, I tracked it out of sight, under a rock but then I noticed some translucent, white sprouts of some sort, that up close were elegantly ethereal and fairy-like – something I would not have wanted to miss.

Some things I would never have noticed had I not stopped, sat, and focused my attention on their normally inconsequential movement down below my usual upright and straightforward gaze ahead.  Why are we always trained forward, never below or above, but ahead?

“Jo, such a little name, for such a person” – a favorite line from a favorite book and film – Little WomenLittle names for big characters.  Little tasks for giants among us.  Little jobs produce great dividends.  Little words can make dynamic statements.  You get the pattern.

I think perhaps the big things assault our senses, demanding a response, and noisy things literally capture our attention and hold us hostage.  Because big and noisy things have taken all of our allotted daily energy, we’ve learned to sort out, sift through, and ignore the little things and the quiet stuff, deeming them unnecessary and peripheral to life.

We’ve forgotten the gift of little things, silence, and simplicity that the Shaker’s well knew when they composed the song, Simple Gifts.  Kitty Kallen sang, “little things mean a lot” in 1954 and it still applies.

The Song of Solomon 2:15 alerts us to the potential of little things (in this allegory, it was little foxes) doing big damage (spoiling or ruining tender grape vines), if left unattended.  Apparently, not only in current culture, but in ancient culture as well, people were caught unawares, not paying attention to the potential of little things impacting important aspects of life.

We ignore little things until they’ve compounded and noisily commanded our attention.  We would do ourselves a favor by attending to the otherwise, unnoticed “duh” little things, moments, thoughts, occasions, ideas, events and endowments, as the gifts they really are.

Who am I to add to anything Thomas Merton said, an American Trappist monk, writer, theologian, mystic, poet, social activist, and scholar of comparative religion?  But I’m gonna give it a try anyway, for what it’s worth.  He said, “Wisdom cries out to all who will hear.  And she cries out particularly to the little.”  In the context of this column, I would add, “Wisdom cries out to all of us about the little things, if we only had ears to hear.”

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