Monday, June 18, 2007

The unbearable lightness of being small...

Some things are typically prefered smaller than bigger.

Debt.
Dress sizes.
Cell phones.
The distance between loved ones.

And at times, the sense that WE are small can feel seemingly unbearable.

In a career.
In a relationship.
In the physical world.

I've had many friends who have gone to great lengths to go to a place where they can be made to feel miniscule.

Mount Everest. The Pacific. Hong Kong.

And I have just as many friends (many of whom, interestingly, are also in the above category) who have worked very hard to become as big as they can be in whichever portion of the world surrounds them.

Knowledge. Craft. Accomplishment. Physical strength.

I tend to stay rather neutral on matters as obtuse as these. The question of whether one should strive to see themselves as A) the master of the universe, or B) a lesser-known cousin of Stuart Little. Not that I'm without plenty of theories and observations. Those, I am full of. And - even if just for sport - I can play both sides of just about any argument. (After all, it can taste great AND be less filling, if you want it to be. Just ask the Swiss.)

But today, I'm standing up for the little guy. Due in great part because today is a day where I feel like I spent the last four days with a fifty pound pack climbing to a peak that, once viewed at last, made me realize I'm just a speck on a speck. And I think it's good.

Growing up, I learned about the Beatitudes...part of a sermon purportedly given by Jesus, commonly referred to as the Sermon on the Mount (a geographical place where perhaps he himself felt small). In this, he describes characteristics of those who will reside in heaven. Or rather, he suggests how these good citizens will be blessed.

Blessed are the weak, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

According to my preliminary understanding, it may as well have read:

Blessed are the left-handed, for they shall write with their right.
Blessed are the short, for they shall become tall.
Blessed are those lacking a sense of humor, for they shall become entertaining.

But maybe he was on to something...

Blessed are those who feel small, because for some strange reason, recognizing your relatively diminuitive stature in the world will yield you some kind of greatness...or at the very least, some useful insight.

All of the comparisons in the Beatitudes have something to do with enlarging the inheritance of those who seem to have but a tiny slice of the Good Fortune Pie. Not only that, but it is BECAUSE they are small that they will become large.

How jolting the discovery that some part (or all) of your seemingly attainable world is really so hugely complex and un-attainable that an entire lifetime of investment is merely a down-payment. How shocking the discovery that the reward for digging deeper is learning that what you have already dug up is a much smaller percentage of what you thought was needed to get to the bottom of the hole. In fact, there might not even BE a bottom to the hole you're trying to unearth.

But the reward for being small in this sense means that you are engaged enough to have latched onto a CORNER of the notion that an unfathomably enormous world exists. Not just the world that is visitable by airplane (and with the advances in technology, I sometimes wonder if the Atlantic is any bigger than Lake Michigan).

The world of continuining history, of ongoing discovery and greatness, of cultural subtleties that have carved themselves out of generations of habits that should never leave us feeling large. Quests for understanding. Explorations of what we ourselves are capable of accomplishing. Could we ever sit atop a tower tall enough to view the entire galaxy of religion, art, science and politics and its infinite connectivities?

There are days I wish I could curl up inside my 1984 perceptions of the world: That Lincoln made all the bad report between white and black people good. That everything about Japan and its history could be summed up in a two-page report written on a Wednesday night. That my brother could successfully complete Impossible Mission and stop evil Professor Atombender, once and for all (okay...he did actually do that).

Well, Billy Jean was just a girl and today I was just an ant who walked unexpectedly into a mental mega mall. I've come to a point where my role in the world is asking new depths of me. Exciting in concept, but also overwhelming. In my mind, going deeper requires all confidence in the size I am and full recognition of the size I am not.

Day in. Day out. Challenges of all shapes and sizes. Taking all of it with the unbearable lightness of being small.

1 comment:

Arthur said...

Yeah...like JB wrote, I am only a needle in the internet haystack. But I say...Life gives us many lessons to learn, it's just that sometimes we forget we're in class...when's recess again?