It's the Small Stuff: Tiny Essays on Little Things

This page features essays and explorations devoted to noticing, savoring, celebrating, and contemplating the meaning of the small stuff--the fleeting joys and tiny moments of beauty or insight of which some of the very best, most memorable, and richest aspects of life are spun.

Display

Response to the claim, "I will never stop trying to display my love for you."

“Display” is for fireworks and department store windows.

“Display” is for temper tantrums and generally poor behavior, as in, “That was a fine display!”

“Display” is for things to sell, as in displaying one’s wares, and it has more than a little hint of selling sexuality about it: “She just loves to put her body on display.”

It is a constant comforting hum like the filament of a porch light at night. It’s an easy way with one another that only time and presence can bring.

“Display” is the antithesis of love. Indeed, we sneer at the too enthusiastic PDA as immature and exhibitionistic. We regard overt displays of wealth as tacky and insecure.

Love is lived moment by moment over long stretches of time. It lives in every small decision, every memory recalled, every instant decision to offer comfort and compassion, to be steered by ethics and honor, to appreciate the beauties and ongoing mysteries of the familiar. It accumulates and ripens. It grows deeper and richer. It mellows into sunset hues, but knows about dawn, starlight, moonlight, and comets, too. It connects across time and distance. It is palpably there even when there are no witnesses.

It offers steady warmth and light against cold and darkness. Even the kind that is sultry and simmering is best shared by only two, and meant to be that way.

It’s not a trick pony, not a stack of canned goods, not rows of shiny new cars glinting under the too bright lights of a sales lot. It’s not an organ grinder’s monkey, not a twirl around a stripper pole, not a movie set carefully staged to look like a real home.

Love is the choice to connect in a safe, steady, sane, and stable way. It creates room for giggling until tears come, for private jokes and lexicons, for tradition and history, for conversation and silence, for welcome and surprising growth.

It is neither a trophy nor a bit of candy of either the eye or the arm variety. 

It is a constant comforting hum like the filament of a porch light at night. It’s an easy way with one another that only time and presence can bring.

It’s responsible but magical, like the time my son, my daughter, and I all spontaneously appeared at our gathering wearing individual versions of the same darned thing. It’s apparent to the sensitive and observant outsider.

But it is not about guilt or proof or stuff on a shelf, though often about showing and caring and giving and receiving and sharing.

It is never mainly or mostly or essentially a matter of display.

Lilacs and the Riches of a Small World

In their scent is every thrilling first kiss remembered and yet to come, every whispered promise under the stars, every fat book devoured in their shade or amidst the stirring of their heart shaped leaves.

I settle onto a bench on my covered front porch on a rainy morning–mug of fresh coffee in hand, loyal old dog sniffing and rolling in the wet and vibrantly green spring grass–to survey my small but ever changing world once more.

Full blown lilacs curve over the edge of the garden, lush and dripping. It is probably unwise to love lilacs so passionately. After all, their blooms are short-lived, they get leggy very quickly, and they can be fussy about pruning, but love them I do. Besides this one at the corner of the front garden, I have lilacs of many colors–pink, white, deep plum, classic light purple–running down the property line at each side of the back yard. I planted them years ago, when I claimed this place as my family’s safe and beautiful bit of land. They are, for me, perhaps more than any other plant, symbolic of home. For a week or so every spring, they all flower at once, and their sweet, old-fashioned scent drifts in, subtly and tantalizingly, at every open window.

As a child, I would always cut bouquets of lilacs to bring indoors. I can even remember the crazed green glass pitcher I would arrange them in, and how their nodding, trailing heaviness touched something in me, even then. Cut, they fade rapidly, but this is never a bar. I still gather them almost daily during their brief flowering, still prefer them in a green glass vase, still experience their fleeting beauty as a sweet but necessary ache. They are, somehow, always the first promise of summer. In their scent is every thrilling first kiss remembered and yet to come, every whispered promise under the stars, every fat book devoured in their shade or amidst the stirring of their heart shaped leaves. They are nostalgia and possibility. Common but transcendent.

When the flower heads fade to brown, the pruning begins. Deadheading and selectively cutting back woody branches with few leaves is the work of a few days and several smoky fires–a great deal of effort to put into a theoretical future of lovely but evanescent flowers in springs hence, but it is always a welcome labor of love, and completely unnoticed. Ah, yes, there goes mom, puttering about the yard again, seemingly to no real purpose. She will come back in a few ticks after dusk, arms scratched and hair smelling of smoke. Nobody knows exactly why, but it seems to have something to do with her tree hugging, vaguely witchy, eternally tomboyish ways.

But I know that when my children catch the scent of lilacs in the air, even many years from now, they will think of home, and perhaps that is enough.

Finding the Tiny Key

A Monday story. Guess I'll call it "Finding the Tiny Key."

So, over the weekend, we had a few nice days, which had me out clearing branches and twigs from the yard, and burning them in the fire pit.

Had a cheery little blaze going, but some of the wood was still a bit damp, so I was crouching down to tuck in a few more pieces of fat wood, when I spied a teeny tiny key on the ledge of the pit.

Immediately charmed. Why were the heavens sending me perfect little keys, now? What secret thing was I meant to unlock?

Immediately charmed. Where did this cute little old-fashioned key come from? What kind of nifty little container or cunningly small pixie's diary might it open? Why were the heavens sending me perfect little keys, now? What secret thing was I meant to unlock?

Pondered these things, made the blaze a bit bigger, then tucked the key into the back pocket of my jeans, with all the other finds collected so far that day, like the true tomboy I am and will always be.

Happened upon it later, among the battered pennies and stray scraps of paper, during the pocket emptying ritual, and suddenly realized that this charming little key had broken free of the very bracelet I was still wearing.

It occurred to me how very often the keys we need to open the way to life's many small joys are actually on or about our persons at any given moment. It's all in whether we stop to notice things, and how we choose to see them when we do. Broken bracelet, or pathway to magical realms? Always a choice.