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The Very Smallest Things

I can be a little full of myself. It comes out in ways that make light of simple things and what could be considered “sappy” approaches to life. I also know, as any discerning person reading this could conclude in just a moment, that this is mostly a defense. I don’t want to let myself be too soft and appreciative lest I lose the thing I’m enjoying or valuing. But even for me, the perfect storm of amazing fall weather, Thanksgiving approaching, and what I feel like is my age-related sentimentality is making me much squishier in my gratitude. Pretty much the smallest possible things seem to melt me these days and, believe me, I’m taking it.

I love all of this, not in a huge, sweeping stroke, but in the tiniest conversations, the silliest dog walks, and the best conversations about how great life really is.

It's quite a relief from the many years I spent feeling cynical and apprehensive—and frankly sort of mad. I don’t exactly feel that I chose that approach, but rather kind of fell into it. It always seemed like I was born and raised in the wrong time to be sunny and light-hearted about the world around me. We had a war to protest, human rights to be won, establishments to reject, and patriarchies to dismantle and smash. With those tasks on my to-do list, I hardly had the time or inclination to stop and smell the roses, much less the coffee.

What’s finally occurred to me in these years when I don’t have quite so many things to prove, is that I spent too much time looking at the big picture. If the world was unfair, I couldn’t possibly be made happy by a tiny moment with my dog—and believe me, I’ve had some pretty great dogs. I had to be much more serious than that. And if I let myself think that watching the sunrise while reading The New York Times was a little like Nirvana, it might mean I was getting weak and could be too easily manipulated into being happy. Nope, not me. I had to stay tough and committed to the idea that things could fall apart at any moment.

And you know, sometimes they do. But often they don’t—and I’ve been practicing sticking around in the moment long enough to notice that. Things can feel grim and hopeless one afternoon and, by evening, they’ve taken a turn I never expected. Imagine that. Maybe it’s been during this being-present time that I’ve noticed a lot more of the details. In the past, when I felt like I was too evolved to slow down and just be where I was, I didn’t appreciate how stately the oak trees look when their beautiful leaves have all fallen off. This year, I let myself revel in the evolution and strength those massive trees represent. Their seasonal changes alone seem a little like a miracle. Last week, on an early morning walk, I stopped and stared for several minutes at an egret who had planted herself proudly at the very tip top of an Italian cypress.

I’m grateful for that. In fact, I am grateful just to be able to notice that. I feel free, in a way, to stop and feel wonder at practically everything in my path. I get it now that appreciating the tiny things in my life doesn’t make me soft. I’m not worried that my appreciation means I’ll be caught off guard by the terrible thing that could be lurking just around the corner. If it comes, it comes. I’ll survive it.

In the meantime, I have a couple of sincere, hilarious dogs who entertain me non-stop. I have amazing friends and colleagues who know me and still like me, and I have the partner of my dreams. I love all of this, not in a huge, sweeping stroke, but in the tiniest conversations, the silliest dog walks, and the best conversations about how great life really is. Grateful mostly, I think, that I finally found my way here.


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