We’re less than two weeks into 2017, and I’ve been feeling overwhelmed. With everything.
Of course, with the state of the world. From the refugee crisis to the horrible violence and killing that seem to take place on a daily basis – just Sunday in Baghdad, almost 20 people were killed in suicide bombings. 20 people. People who were just out shopping for vegetables.
And then there’s the state of our country. Where black parents have to teach their children, not just how to look both ways before they cross the street, but how to deal with the police so they don’t get killed. Where women and LGBTQ are still being abused and demeaned on a regular basis. Where we are soon to be living in a world in which a Twittering Incompetent is President of the United States. And don’t get me started on how scared I am of his cabinet.
And then, of course, there’s the state of our personal lives. Practically everyone I know is going through…something. Transitions. Illness. Loss. Relationship struggles. Financial struggles. Identity issues. Depression. Anxiety.
And it’s cold. Here in Chicago the temperature has been like 7 degrees all week. I know perhaps to some people that may seem like not such a big deal in the grand scheme of things. But it is if you live on the street or don’t have enough heat in your house, or perhaps just find that freezing your ass off puts you in a bad mood.
And I keep asking myself, what can I do? What can I do about all of it? What can I do in times like these?
I walk around feeling like I can’t do enough. Or like nothing I can do will be enough to make a difference.
Mostly I feel like I want to fix it all, but I can’t fix any of it.
It would take a miracle to fix any of it.
A couple days ago, though, I started thinking again about that Raymond Carver short story, “A Small, Good Thing.” In it, a couple face a horrible tragedy. They are heartbroken, devastated. But something happens, at the end of the story, a simple thing…some food is shared, a kind of communion happens. And it’s not everything, but it is holy and healing. As one of the characters says, “You have to eat and keep going. Eating is a small, good thing in a time like this.”
And it made me think, what if, when I’m being smashed by the huge waves of all that’s wrong and horrible and broken all around me, and feeling powerless and overwhelmed by it all, (which pretty much happens every time I open up Facebook or watch the news or, basically, get out of bed in the morning)…what if I just tried to do a small, good thing?
What if I just committed to doing one small good thing every day?
One thing every day that could make the world better in some small way.
One true thing.
One positive thing.
One kind thing.
One puny but proactive thing.
One tiny little injustice-fighting thing.
One thing every day that puts flesh and bones on Jesus’s call to love my neighbor as myself. (Which not only leads me to one small good neighbor-loving thing, but also to one small good self-loving thing…)
Quite honestly, I have already been doing some small good things. Pretty much every day I sign petitions. I give money. I share information. I write songs. I read and learn and try to stay informed. I signed up a couple days ago to go to the Women’s March here in Chicago on January 21. Which seems like something. Sort of, kind of, right?
But not really.
The truth is, even though I do them, I don’t often feel like any of these small things add up to much. Could possibly be enough.
Then the other night, while FaceTiming with my oldest daughter, Zoe, who is living and working in Portland these days, she began telling me about the “bullet journal” she’s started keeping, which is evidently a thing these days…a daily planner and journal kind of deal in one. Done on paper, not online.
Depending on who’s doing it, the journal can be quite beautiful, a work of art…or quite pragmatic. Many of the ones I saw on Instagram seem to be a mix of both. But what caught my eye, as Zoe leafed through hers, was a page she had put in for her gratitude. On the left was a bright yellow sun and coming out of it, 30 lines, looking like the rays of the sun, and on each day, each line, Zoe was writing one thing she was grateful for that day.
And it got me.
I imagined Zoe looking back at her month and seeing that picture of her gratitudes, one from each day filling the page and I could see how it might fill her with hope, and maybe even more gratitude.
And it made me think that maybe that's the miracle...that the things we do on a daily basis do add up. Those individual small good things seem as flimsy as a thin strand of twine - but when you add those strands all together they become something else, something stronger. A rope, not easily broken.
The individual small good things… they are like those ridiculous scraps of straw and grass and other debris birds use to build nests from. They shouldn't amount to anything, but they do, they hold together, they become a home.
And maybe being able to see that, is a matter of opening our eyes and getting the whole picture. And maybe being able to see that and trust that, is a kind of miracle too.
So that’s what I’m going to be doing, going into this new year. What I’m trying to do anyway. A small good thing or two or maybe even three, every day. I’m going to do them, keeping Mother Theresa’s words in mind, that not all of us can do great things, but “we can do small things with great love.”
And I’m going to write them down, keep track of them, so I can visualize them, see the whole array, all the single strands, and try to believe each of these small good things are healing and holy.
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