All The Little Things

“It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.” ― Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes

It is what it is

I did it again yesterday. I went to class and got all set up. Which is not quick task. I waited and waited. No one showed up. I was discouraged. It was a beautiful day, after all. Once I realized no one was going to show up, I proceeded to unplug and pack up. As I headed to the hall and stairs my students shouted at me from across the way. They had been waiting for me in the right classroom. I had once again been in the wrong room. 

A Closer Look at Salvador Dalí | Spanish Trails“Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.” ― Salvador Dali


I’ve written before about Automatic Thinking. Our brains can’t deliberately keep everything on the front burner all the time. That’s a strategy for fast overload. What the brain does – it shifts routine activities to what we call automatic thinking so that it doesn’t need to be completely conscious and can use effort and energy on other tasks that are more urgent and important. This is why I always seem to “wake up” in the parking lot at work having rehearsed my important speech but can’t remember at all how I got from home to there!

A lot of little things to think about all at once!

My next door colleague at work told me he’s just exhausted. It’s because he has to be conscious of everything he’s doing now. Maybe that’s what I feel as well. With so much new going on in my daily routine, there’s less automatic going on in my brain. I realize how much I take for granted in each day. Little things:

  • What’s for dinner?
  • Why did I forget to upload that assignment?
  • What day of the week is it today?
  • I haven’t heard from ________ in weeks!

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When the semester started for me there was mostly panic as I tried to get and keep my ducks in a row. A lot is falling into a little routine now (except showing up to the right classroom!?). Some of that is healthy, some not. I am a little more aware of the taken-for-granted now. I know first hand what it’s like to be thrust into a new and uncomfortable situation. Feeling powerless to fix things makes me feel angry, frustrated and isolated. 

“We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Maybe this can help me to be more aware of these same experiences and feelings in others? Once things settle down and get back to normal (?) I hope I don’t forget. I’m sorry Herr Pastor Bonhoeffer, but most of the people I encounter each day I am evaluating on the basis of what they are doing or not doing. This is going to take some serious conscious thought on my part. I’m going to have to be far less automatic in my responses, emails and feedback that I post. 

Our current state of chaos has given each of us an opportunity to pay attention to some of the details we once sped past too quickly. 

My wife was never really very good at gardening. She always liked to get involved and pick out plants at the nursery. Choosing the right ones and actually getting them in the ground was another story. But, we faithfully went through the ritual. I remember her grabbing a very deep purple colored little plant several years ago. It looked too delicate. I didn’t think it stood a chance in our sweltering climate and sporadic watering. It struggled and strained and eventually I lost track of it, knowing it had gone the way of hundreds of its ancestors from our flower beds over the years.

“The small things of life were often so much bigger than the great things . . . the trivial pleasure like cooking, one’s home, little poems especially sad ones, solitary walks, funny things seen and overheard.” ― Barbara Pym

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There has been more watering lately in my yard. I was coming in to the house the other day and peeking out by the bed near the front door were those dark purple leaves and spindly stalks of that plant she put in the ground a few years ago. It made it after all. It was a little thing, a quick glance as I hauled plastic bags in before the rain came. A little thing that shouted so loudly, if I would stop for just a moment to hear.

I’ve got several close friends who are paying attention to family and friends in crisis right now. Some are strangers to them, others very close. I can’t help but think that this unusual time of stress and strain has also sharpened people’s focus on human need.

“Resolve to be tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant of the weak and the wrong. Sometime in life you will have been all of these.” ― George Washington Carver

This season of fear and uncertainty has drawn our collective attention toward large crises. I’d like to challenge you to draw your eyes away from the burning dumpsters and look for little things that demonstrate God’s presence and the gifts of love all around you. Maybe that’s all anyone ever wanted – was to be loved. 

“Treasures are hidden away in quiet places.  They speak in soft tones and often become silenced as we approach.  They don’t beg to be found, but embrace us if we do happen to find them.  They are the product of completely ordinary circumstances unfolding in wonderfully extraordinary ways.  They are found hidden in the nooks and crannies of our existence; all around us if we quit allowing our attention to be captivated by that which is noisy and listen for that which is quiet and still.” ― Craig D. Lounsbrough

There are people you pass by each day. I was speaking with a number of friends from the past the other day. It made me think about all of the silly and sensible conversations we had over the many years. I realized how much I had been given by the everyday people in my past. My memory sweeps past so quickly, jumping from tragedies to monumental turns in the road. But really, my ordinary life has been constructed one brick at a time by so many, so many who knew me and so many who never will. 

In the chaos and crises, make time to pay more careful attention to the people around you, what they are saying and NOT saying. 

I saw a quote the other day from the writer George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans 1819-1880). It made me think, and keep thinking about all the people that surround me who accomplish so much for so many by the hundreds of little acts of service and kindness. Never thinking about what they do, as natural as the wind blowing through the grass. Their hidden lives make all the difference in the world. They always have.

“..for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.” George Eliot, Middlemarch

Instead of trying to change the world, try making today count. Try making someone else’s life count for just a minute or two in that brief interaction. Try to stop that “automatic” flow of events and instead do or say something intentional and meaningful. You don’t have to change a life, just a moment.

Keep on the Sunnyside!

Well, there’s a dark and a troubled side of life
There’s a bright and a sunny side too
But if you meet with the darkness and strife
The sunny side we also may view

Keep on the sunny side, always on the sunny side
Keep on the sunny side of life
It will help us every day, it will brighten all the way
If we keep on the sunny side of life

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