Archive for Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Even small things matter

January 2, 2008

In Alexander McCall Smith's "The Right Attitude to Rain," Isabel, the novel's main character, is standing looking out a window at sunset with a young man. She is contemplating that her life and that of the young man are really inconsequential in the context of eternity; that all anxieties, doubts and fears are, in the long run, of very little consequence.

But she goes on to say that "we cannot lead our lives as if nothing really matters." She uses the example of an ant hill which, when stepped upon really matters very little to the booted one but to the ants represents the destruction of an entire world. The fact that it really doesn't matter to the rest of the world should make one happy, she reasons, but what she discovers is that to her, it matters, and "the fact that it matters, matters."

Small things matter. Everything matters.

If there is any thought I want this year to end on and the New Year to begin with, it is that small things matter. The ant hill that is crushed underfoot matters not only to the one being crushed, but to the one who stomps upon the colony as well. We simply cannot live our lives as though what is important to us as individuals does not affect others.

Who would not like to stand at a window overlooking a beautiful lake and think that for at least a moment what we wanted was the most important wish in the world? Who would not want, at least for a moment, to make a decision and believe it only affected one or two other people, at least those closest to us?

It would make life so easy if we were all only children.

But we are not. We are born into a world with a dozen siblings, many of whom we will never meet and whose names we may never know. We are, however, as responsible for them as if we were of the same kinship circle. Our values, beliefs, hence our actions emanate out from our lives like pebbles dropped into a body of water, circling and overlapping with the circles emanating out of the lives of others. We are, like it or not, ever connected to others.

Just as the shrinking ice flow impacts water levels hundreds of miles away, our decisions affect people we do not see and may never meet. There are things we would all like to turn away from; people we would like to ignore; issues too complicated to understand; jobs that require too much effort. We have no proof that our good works will come to any good end, in the long run; in the context of eternity.

I choose to believe that we cannot live our lives as though nothing really matters.

Small things matter. Everything matters.

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