Some years ago my husband and I were house hunting in the Scottish countryside. The market was buoyant and we hadn’t the luxury of an excess of money nor time to play the game properly. I realised if we could cut out the estate agent and the bidding and go straight to the seller, we might have a chance. Then it happened. We saw our dream home, a home we fell in love with on the spot. At well over 200 years old, Rowan Cottage was the oldest building in the hamlet, sandstone of warm hue and the very essence of charm. It had a postage stamp of a garden and was semi detached, sharing one wall with Starling Cottage next door.
Bold is not a complete stranger to me. I also knew without boldness, this house would be lost to us in a bidding war. I thanked the estate agent for showing us the house, quizzed her about the owner to no avail, and when she was gone I went to the neighbour. It’s the small things that make a difference. I introduced myself to Matilda who was in her late 70’s and was invited to join her for a cup of tea. Over tea I learned the name and contact details of the owner. That small thing Mattie did for me not only ensured we acquired our dream cottage but saved us, easily, £40,000. It made a big difference. I also learned that I would be very lucky to have such a wonderful neighbour and friend.
Mattie delighted in the small things, the smallest flower, a bird outside the window, or the exhale of the day - the time when she would savour a book or sip a cup of tea. She had a gorgeous garden, a very British garden with some grass, a large outdoor chess board, things to captivate high and to draw attention low. There was a summer house, something I had previously not seen the purpose of at one end of her garden. The path leading to it was lined with lavender and a variety of roses, the roses climbing to form a scented tunnel.
On fine days Mattie would open the double doors to the summer house and bring a tray of tea, biscuits and lemonade for my daughter. She had a tiny jug for my girl and an even tinier glass tankard, just two and a half inches high. We gazed at the garden and talked of small things, what we liked about a painting, a passage from a book and frequently, recited favourite poetry. She taught me about pointillism, how many small points of pure colour can produce something radiant, brilliant and bigger.
It’s those small points that really stand out for me, tiny luminous moments where truth is revealed. Khalil Gibran said, “In the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures. For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.”
We are all in need of the heart’s morning, a time to renew our overburdened selves. I had the opportunity to do exactly that for a friend some years ago. She was a put upon single Mother, struggling in every way possible. In constant conflict with her ex husband for support, juggling a full time job and raising two children, one with complex needs – she was so desperately in need of help. There was so little I could do for her and it frustrated me. One day she mentioned that she had stopped her son’s favourite swimming lessons due to a lack of funds. Over the next weeks, I contrived a situation that involved a well intentioned deception. I told her I had entered her in a contest at the local pool, first prize being a year’s free swimming lessons. I then contacted the pool, paid for the lessons and drew them into the deception. It was a very small thing but it was something, and I knew what those lessons meant to her son and to her. Later, the pool manager contacted her to tell her she had won the lessons. I swore them to secrecy.
One small action changed some things for her. It did not pay all her bills, magically transport her to ease or remove her son’s complex needs. It did enable her son to re start his lessons and she got a little time for herself, time to chat with a friend or read while he was happily engaged. She felt her luck had changed and became more hopeful. That hope compelled her to consider her circumstances and to find the courage to change her life. Eventually, she applied for funding and went back to school to retrain. She said that bit of good fortune was a turning point for her. Arthur Conan Doyle wove into his most famous character, the ability to discern the importance of the minute. He said, “It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.” For Sherlock Holmes and my friend, this was certainly true.
So often all we can do is very little but very little accumulates into the considerable. Something small is a seed planted in our consciousness. With the right conditions, it has the capacity to grow. Not only that but I don’t believe we’re inclined to focus on the big things; they’re just too overwhelming. Has anyone ever made a grand gesture or done something big for you? How often have you heard the words, I have no idea how to thank you? Perhaps that’s why children are known for playing with the box and wrapping when given a gift – we’re wired to hone in on what is manageable. Those small seeds are more than enough; they’re what we need.
Not everyone would agree, Doris Lessing commented that, “small things amuse small minds.” If this is correct then I readily admit to the inferiority of my mind. I love the smell of the house after I’ve cooked curry the night before, something remembered about me when I thought no one heard, a beautiful phrase that makes me stop and repeat it with reverence, a cup of tea offered when I didn’t ask. All of it small it’s true, none of it will change the world, lessen financial burdens, end conflict or war, or solve problems of any magnitude. Still, “Great things are done by a series of small things brought together,” words from the Master himself, Vincent Van Gogh.
© S. Marian, May 22, 2012