I have dedicated sonnets to the size of the world. To its grandeur and exciting, endless possibility. To the infinite sorts of people and places one can encounter. To music and art and customs and the glory of humanity, and to all the faces of God I’ve seen in every corner. This vastness has saved me more than once and the great expanse is large enough to hold all the versions of my dreams.
Still, over the years, as the world unfolds a few previously unforeseen corners for every one new place I visit, what were once whispers and hints have become much more overt, and I feel a tug toward something completely the opposite, yet entirely the same point. I feel a draw toward smaller spaces. This is not a retreat from the great wide world, nor is it a surrender to how overwhelming the whole earth and all of its inhabitants can seem on occasion. Rather it’s a shift in belief that, just like in one small organism there are unthinkable numbers of molecules making it up, so in tiny pockets of our existence is there incredible depth and purpose and wonder.
When I really think about it, I believe in the small. I believe that we are called to a certain lightness on this earth. We don’t want our bodies too attached to a place our souls won’t stay. We don’t want to tread too heavily in the soil we hope to leave for another generation. We don’t want our own marks to spoil the beauty of what was called “good” in its original state. But I have deeper questions about what all that has to do with our existence. What is the meaning of it all if we should leave little evidence of our having been here? I want to change the world.
Changing the world is an impossible undertaking, but it’s the standard we’ve set for ourselves nonetheless. And where that used to be a simple phrase for “make a difference,” nowadays with ease of travel and the internet and global connectedness, changing the world is meant much more literally. We expect to put ourselves “out there”—wherever there is, whatever out means—and for the whole of humanity to receive it. No wonder we find ourselves questioning our worth and our purpose.
I am ridiculous and I like to drive down to Denver every week for my regular errands, mostly because Evergreen doesn’t have a Target or a Sprouts. So I make a day of it, and it’s a chore that is also refreshing because it gives me a lot of my own time and space, with a side of structure and accomplishment. On a Tuesday morning, the Sprouts on Wadsworth can be quite slow, and I’ve come to recognize the faces, sometimes even the names, of the employees. I like to chat at the deli counter and chuckle with the produce guy and listen to the life story of the cashier over and over again. Other customers are usually keen to small talk as well, and I’ve found that a joke about an apple or a compliment on a scarf can go a long way in brightening someone’s day. I put a lot of stock in these things, not just because it feels good to make someone smile. I know the weight of those unexpected joys—when someone asks where I found my coat or remarks on my kids’ good behavior. These encounters are not fleeting jolts, rather can pivot the whole tone of my day.
And a few weeks ago, standing over a bulk bin of nuts and giggling with another woman about the myriad of selection and whining a bit that we can no longer use our cloth bags, and feeling uplifted and communal over the whole thing, I had a feeling that it was where I was meant to be. I thought of being called to “such a time as this” and I realized that I could be called to the bulk section of a Sprouts on a Tuesday morning, just as much as I could be called across the planet. Am I too proud to think that a difference can’t be made?
Two seconds past this revelation, a gloriously pregnant woman passed on my left, literally glowing and rotund and radiant. Our eyes connected, and hers were weary. Without thinking, I smiled and said, “You look gorgeous.” She burst into tears. “Thank you!” she exclaimed.
How foolish I’ve been, I thought, dumbfounded at her response. So concerned I’ve been with my mark on the world, when all this time I could have been making changes every second of every day. The world I want to change doesn’t need to be the whole world, just the world that is around me, and that’s perhaps even more honorable because it means I’m paying attention! How often do we miss our calling because we’re too proud to look in front of our own noses? I’m so set on a broad worldview that I sometimes miss the view I have from right here.
How else can I shrink? I wondered, maybe for the first time ever. I don’t want to decrease to shy away. I decrease so He may increase. This bolsters my view of marriage, of motherhood. How can I encourage my husband today? What do my children need from me besides basic sustenance? When I send them off with these small treasures, what will the ripple effect be? We live in the tiniest town now, but you know what they say about small ponds! Suddenly, I think, whatever efforts I make will be magnificent! How meaningful are the hours I pour into our local magazine! How special are the connections I make in this community!
Louisa May Alcott created a true literary heroine in Jo March, someone I’ve always aspired to be. When Jo proclaims, “I want to do something splendid...something heroic or wonderful that won't be forgotten after I'm dead. I don't know what, but I'm on the watch for it and mean to astonish you all someday,” well, I rather relate to that. I yearn for it! I’ll admit, I want people to know my name. But funny to think, for all of Jo’s adventures and accomplishments, for all of her boldness and fearlessness and sharp remarks, the thing I remember most about her is when she cut her hair. A haircut made all the difference.