Big and little
HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes
Sunday, November 2, 2008
It’s a rainy morning in Sydney and I am home alone. I have just turned on the dishwasher and I have two slices of bread in the toaster. Later, after I have had my breakfast, I will clean the house — I will vacuum, sweep, put things aside and throw out the garbage. If the rain stops, I will do a little garden work, an off-and-on activity I have been engaged in all week.
There is something wonderful about doing small things. It is humbling yet comfortable. The involvement demanded of you is pleasant and does not involve much thinking. They are also activities that largely go unappreciated by those you live with.
These are tasks that do not get your name splashed on a marquee. They are simple and they demand simple attention. Looking at them from the big picture, they do not seem significant, not a lot to crow about. And maybe that’s why the very issue of their significance is worth a second look.
The idea of being there for the little things is really quite important. Why? Because it helps in the continuity of things, not just in making things easier for those who will benefit because you did them, but also for life itself. Without your little effort, everything goes to rot. Because we do the required small things, entropy, or the natural tendency of things to wither and decay, is delayed or arrested, if momentarily.
It’s the daily, sometimes hourly task of being there and making sure there is someone attending to or checking on the business of life’s continuity that makes doing it a noble task.
We moderns like to pride ourselves on the idea that we use our time productively, implying that productivity must be a financially measurable activity. Thus, there is so much impatience with the world and life as it happens. People want instant results, and instant gratification. When an activity does not produce dramatic or desired results, it’s seen as a waste of time.
The gap between deciding to do something and getting to the final, expected results can be a period of great impatience and boredom. Through a modern’s eyes, practically nothing is happening during that time. The metaphor of “watching paint dry” is how many people describe moments in between which they feel are boring and slow because “nothing eventful happens.”
But the truth is, so much is happening all the time. We just have to open our eyes to see it all. The deliberate appreciation of the microscopic effort — the turning of the screw, so to speak — is what I am talking about. So much is going on in this little world, if one cares to look. The little story is the big news.
Comedian Jerry Seinfeld’s strategy in creating his material is to make a big deal about small things. For example, he picks a random topic like finding hair (that is not his) on the soap in his shower and begins to construct scenarios on how it got there. Before you know it, he’s got material that gets his audience laughing.
There is so much to appreciate in small, seemingly insignificant efforts. I sometimes wonder what kind of mindset God is coming from to create something new on a daily, hourly basis, or even every micro-second. I am talking about less dramatic creations like the sprouting of grass that just showed up this morning in my garden, the cloud formations in the sky, the blowing wind that carries pollen everywhere and helps regenerate plants all over, the ever-unfolding of time for us to live through and use in any way we wish.
I know for a fact that these little divine efforts go unappreciated by a great number of people who are lost in the “bigger,” more “important” things in life. But this snubbing does not seem to deter God from continuing to attend to such little mysteries. He/She seems to do them because they need to be done.
If God had decided to be conditional about it, meaning, He/She would only do it if it was appreciated, everything would have come to a halt a long time ago. The sunsets would have ended since no one ever seems to be around to stop and pay attention to them. Perhaps the reason why God persists is because the little things are as important as the big things.
New parents are keenly aware of the little things that occur in their new environment. They have to be. The diaper change, the feeding, the baby’s temperature, the cooing sounds it makes are all important. The constant attention they need to shower on a new baby can spell the difference between comfort and discomfort and their baby’s well-being. As a young dad, I found myself unable to relax until I heard my babies burping after drinking their milk knowing that if they did not, they would be uncomfortable and they would cry.
All this brings me to thinking about this life we are living. Could it be that it is designed so that there is no lack of purpose for those alive enough to live it? That everything big or little is here for something? That perhaps there is nothing random about what is happening around and to us? Just considering this even for a moment can be overwhelmingly wonderful. All at once, everything little and big in the world is speaking to us, suggesting not just a meaning, a purpose, a mission order, but also a divine presence orchestrating everything that emanates from beyond what is obvious to the senses.
There is a Zen saying that a blade of grass stands as tall as any church or temple. Simply mopping the floor, I feel, has the potential for being as magnificent as a doctor performing surgery, a swimmer shining in the Olympics, or a black man becoming the first president of the greatest superpower in the world. Why? Because it needs to be done and I am consciously being present and heeding the call.
Maybe there are really no such things as big and small tasks. They are all important. It’s only our attitude towards them that make them big or small.