I walk the length of our house looking for something with color to photograph, something to contrast with the vast expanse of white stretching as far as the eye can see. We’ve been hit with our third storm of the week- outside, winds swirl tossing snow in endless piles around our lawn. These February days are what define the heart of winter in Prince Edward Island.
I cross the veranda, where on better days I might cradle a mug of coffee in one hand and a good book in the other. Today, the wicker chairs are laden with frost and hardened snow-ice, my hands encased in thick, black gloves. I trudge down the steps and find myself immediately sinking in foot-and-a-half high snow drifts. Out of the corner of my eye, I catch a glimpse of an isolated icicle hanging from a low-lying branch on the old pine on our side lawn. I make my way toward it, wishing to capture it’s essence through the lens. I snap a picture even as the icicle itself threatens to snap, bent in the middle and dripping water in a slow and steady rhythm.
It is small and minute against the picturesque landscape I can see surrounding it- only entering my line of vision because I went deliberately looking for something charming to photograph. And yet, this dripping, bent-over icicle has captured my attention in spite of its imperfection.
Small and flawed, it is still enchanting.
Certainly small is significant. I live in a beautiful, yet very small ‘island-province’ in Canada, residing in the western end of the same. My community is small enough that most everyone knows your name. I teach at a small rural school five minutes from my home and my own kindergarten class is the smallest class in the school. Incidentally, I also teach the smallest students in the school- the four and five year-olds.
But sometimes I struggle with the smallness of my life, feeling my insignificance in comparison to the world around me. My lack of reach, the difficulty I have experienced in expanding my professional identity, the obstacles in my path- all point to the smallness of me as one individual. And I struggle with the fact that being small means at times: small circles of influence, small impacts and seemingly insignificant means of effect. I write a blog for which sometimes there is a very small audience, for some pieces I write there are even little to no readers. And I feel my voice is sometimes small and muted – even when speaking to my own children who tend to have selective hearing (!). In terms of outreach, my scope is sometimes not more than an arm’s length.
Small is sometimes limiting.
I talk to my mom on the phone and she shares stories with me about my Dad. We both see that because of the reality in which he finds himself, the extent of his effect and the scope of his influence has been made very limited. He was once a pastor of a large urban church where hundreds were in attendance. A ministry for him that was demanding, substantial in impact and important. And now his ability to live life has been debilitated. I am sure there are times when he wonders and questions the scope of his reach as he sits in a restoration facility waiting to be discharged and given his release. I am sure he questions why, although I never hear him voice the words.
I would, if it were me.
In spite of these limitations, he continues to be an inspiration to those around him- using the smallness of his life to enrich others in very large ways. I can’t even count the times in which he has used his words, both written and verbal, to encourage, help and care for those around him. This is not wasted time that he spends dealing with the effects of his disease- this is purposeful, intentional opportunity, and he is using it to be a care-giver to others whom he sees as needing compassion and consideration.
Every small act of kindness is important and meaningful to the one receiving. Nothing is insignificant when it comes to acts of care.
And in this way, small can be an opportunity- an occasion in which to make something big out of something very little. Who can ever forget the words of the starfish poem, in which something so very small has become the source of such great and worldwide inspiration:
One day an old man was walking down the beach just before dawn. In the distance he saw a young man picking up stranded starfish and throwing them back into the sea. As the old man approached the young man, he asked, “Why do you spend so much energy doing what seems to be a waste of time?” The young man explained that the stranded starfish would die if left in the morning sun. The old man exclaimed, “But there must be thousands of starfish. How can your efforts make any difference?” The young man looked down at the starfish in his hand and as he threw it to safety in the sea, he said,” It makes a difference to this one!”(retrieved from http://hopefulhealing.com/Starfish_Poem.html)
It must be said: if it matters to one, then it matters indeed.
That tiny icicle is now gone- melted or blown away. It was never meant to last, only there to shine for a short time. But while it hung suspended from that branch, letting light refract through its intricate design, it mattered.
At least it mattered to one.