We stand in awe of big moments. Our breath is taken by the presence of magnificent mountains; we feel the power of eternity when gazing at vast oceans; we look up in wonder at the Redwoods.
We supersize our food and buy cookies the size of dinner plates. We cheer for singers when their voices crescendo, and we build Superdomes with televisions the size of Rhode Island.
The universe expands and contracts, and perhaps it’s our natural inclination to cheer on expansion.
But oh how I love the little things. . .
While I do feel small when I stand beside the ocean, I never feel powerless, because I believe in small moments.
I love the way it feels when a toddler puts her hand in mine. My soul is reenergized by the joy my dog exhibits every time I walk through the front door. A wink across a crowded room from my husband takes my breath. And the site of a rainbow after a day of rain gives me hope.
One of the most important events in my life happened with a small gesture. . .
My minister father visited our sick congregational members every week. One night, when I was eight years-old, I went with him, I can’t remember why. But at that age a night out by myself with dad was a treat.
We drove up to a small white trailer, and I remember feeling apprehensive about going inside. My only experience with a trailer was during my family vacations, and I wasn’t sure why these people were permanently camping.
We knocked on the door, and an older man answered. He didn’t say much, except “Viola is in her room.” I didn’t find him particularly friendly, especially since I gave him my best smile and he just grunted at me.
We went through the kitchen into a small, stuffy room. In the bed, hooked up to oxygen, was Viola. Dad greeted her and introduced me. She smiled at me and I liked her immediately.
I don’t remember conversational details, but I do remember that her attentiveness made me feel important.
A week later dad was getting ready to leave for visitation, and he told me that Viola wanted to see me. That afternoon my best friend and I planning to roller skate, and I didn’t want to visit anybody. But my dad reminded me that it must be important since Viola had requested the visit.
So, fussing a little, I got in the car. We arrived at the trailer and walked to Viola’s room. She was sitting up in bed this time, and the oxygen tank was nowhere to be seen.
She signalled for me to come closer and said, “I have something for you. Put out your hand.” If her husband had asked that I would have refused, but it was Viola, and I trusted her.
Into my dirty little kid’s hand she put a three-stranded gold necklace that felt smooth and cool. “I want you to have this,” she said. “It’s means a lot to me for a young girl like yourself to visit an old, sick woman. This is my thank you.”
I tried to refuse, because I was sure it cost a million trillion dollars, but she insisted.
I thanked her, and felt a little guilty taking it. I’m sure it’s one of the few pieces of jewelry she owned, and she’d probably hidden it from that grouchy husband for years.
My dad assured me that accepting the gift was a gift to Viola. . .
Viola died a couple of weeks later, and I remember being sad and a little shocked. I put her necklace in a very special place in my jewelry box, and thought of her every time I held it.
Over the years I have lost many pieces of jewelry, some valuable. I lose jewelry like I’m afraid of it, but fifty years later I still have that necklace.
And while I forget names at the speed of light, I still remember the name of Viola Hawes.
In one small gesture and two brief conversations, Viola taught me the importance of paying attention to others, and graciously receiving their gifts.
So, here’s to you Viola Hawes. Your one small gesture changed my perception of giving and receiving. More importantly, I realized during our interaction that age didn’t matter. Neither did the trailer or the oxygen tank. Because when you looked at me and smiled, I saw a soul who I instantly loved.
And that’s just one reason that I believe in the power of small.
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