I am so small I can barely be seen.
How can this great love be inside me?
Look at your eyes, they are small but they
See enormous things.
Most of the time I feel a victim of my needs and my routine. I tend to feel it is so difficult to escape. I wonder how I will ever do anything more than get through each moment. And there was quite a bit of time when waking, showering, dressing, eating, and caring for myself were quite enough to handle. There was a time when the smallest gesture of anything from me seemed so impossible, so unlikely. I desire to find the greatness and potential festering inside of me. I think we all do. And until last week, I thought it had to be something grand, something lasting, something ineffaceable. The latter two are definitely true, but the grandiosity is certainly not true. The answer is much simpler, much easier to achieve. The trail I want to leave, the path I want to carve, it is that of love and kindness and compassion. It may sound cliche or trite, but, I believe, my potential, my greatness, comes from the love I have and the love I offer. Nothing more, nothing less.
In a world so riddled with sadness and suffering, it appears love is a tiny dot lurking among many huge ink blots of pain. It can seem like the only way to see it is to get out a magnifying glass and will myself to find it. But this is not true. You see, I believe, amongst the blobs of tragedy lie some of the strongest potential and greatness possible. And when I look, really look, I see the enormity of the small dots and when they are all together, they make monstrous, indelible ink blots all of their own. My accident and the years following taught me to see these dots, really see them.
Last week, as I was rushing around trying to cross many errands off my list, I paused for moment, remembered and noticed, all of the tiny dots of love in my life, begging to be seen as giant blots. As I was packaging up a book for a dear friend, who recently lost a baby, I felt my heart pounding and eyes throbbing and I couldn't figure out why. Of course, I was terribly sad for her loss, but something else was tugging at my once tough and rigid heart strings. I wanted to go to her and be there for her, but because of my schedule, my routine, my needs, I couldn't drop everything and run. I could only do what I could in the moment and that was to gather a book and some DVDs, because when I was sick and alone, I craved an escape or two. I knew the book and discs wouldn't solve any of her worries or her pain, but it might take it away for a brief and fleeting second. And as I wrapped the book in the padded mailer and tucked seasons one and two of Downton Abbey in with it, I remembered an instance, a once small and fleeting gesture that now seemed so enormous, so overwhelmingly kind and loving. I finally understood the greatness of the small gestures of love. Several years ago, as I was escaping my prison of pain, this same friend extended herself, her kindness, her love to me. It may seem silly, but it was and is so immense to me. We were out at a bar, I promise I don't frequent bars as much as I discuss them, but I was in my twenties and that's where one goes in her twenties. We were at our local bar watching a friend's band. Going to the bathroom in bars is quite a challenge. There is usually only one stall or maybe two and they are small and dirty and crowded. The lines wrap around and are never-ending. This friend always jumped up to accompany me whenever I had to go. She assumed it as her duty. Something I took for granted, but see now as so lovely and so kind. This particular bar had two restrooms, each their own room. She came in with me in case I needed anything and stood at the door while I performed my bathroom dance. And as girls do, we chatted the entire time. And while we were cackling, we heard a huge, loud, obnoxious knock at our door, along with a drunken scream, "Hurry up in there, the rest of us are waiting, Jesus, how long does it take to go to the bathroom!" And then we heard a lot of laughter. I was mortified. I was moving at the speed of light for me, but I am never fast now. It just isn't possible. And my friend, briefly paused, turned, and just like the steel magnolia she is, raised her fist above her head and pounded back on the door so hard I felt myself jump and was worried the door would crack. And as she ferociously pounded, she broke from her sweet, southern voice, and shouted back with the greatest of fervor, "Hey why don't you shut the #$%@ up, my friend is in a wheelchair and is going as fast as she can. Why don't you just stand on your two working legs a little longer and wait. She will be out when she is good and ready." Then she turned around, as if nothing happened and picked up our conversation, without missing a beat. The pounding and laughter from outside the door stopped. We weren't bothered again. And as we exited the restroom, all of the girls stepped aside, smiled, and apologized over and over again. My friend walked behind me, protecting me, in case anyone dare try anything again. My friend protected me. She came to my defense, stepped outside of herself, offered her assistance and refused to allow me to feel bullied or rushed. She didn't care what anyone thought of her, she only thought of my feelings, my comfort. As the years went on, she did this kind of thing again and again. And as I watched her fearlessness when defending her friend, I soon learned this was the action of a true friend. This is how to stand up for a friend. Her actions, her gestures, no matter how small, were huge and blaring acts of love and she showed them any way she could. As I taped her package and secured the label, I realized why I was so eager to do something, anything. I had to bang back on that door for her this time, I had to step up when and how I could, if only to return the favor, pass on the love she taught me to give. And one of the most awe inspiring things about acts of kindness, is they multiply like wildflowers. Once someone is shown grace, he or she passes it on and the cycle of paying it forward can't be stopped. As I handed the post office lady my package with the prepaid label I purchased online and started to wheel out of the post office, she called me back. I only counted the weight of the book and mistakenly forgot to add in the weight of the discs and the packaging. I still owed $1.15. It was pouring down rain outside and I only grabbed my driver's license and keys as I left my home earlier. Before this stop, I walked my dog at the river, as I do every morning, always without my wallet. I didn't have any money with me. I took the package and was planning to search my car for change to make up the difference. But then, another lady waiting in line behind me said, "Please, please just add it to my order. I am happy to pay the difference. I don't want her schlepping back out in the rain. It is the least I can do." I told her I could not let her, but she insisted. I returned to my car, scrounged up the change and waited for her to come out of the post office and when she did, I tried to give her the change and she said, "No, please just let me do something kind for you, please." Here it was again, a small, tiny dot to add to all of the others.
Again and again, I see the greatness in others. I see souls sparkle and hearts with wings. I see twenty something girls, who are unfairly accused of being attached to their phones, drop everything and run to push me up an icy hill during a snowstorm. I see friends and family picking up cases of water or the salt and vinegar chips I love and leaving them at my doorstep. I see everyone rushing to hold doors or offer to carry things. People never fail to ask if I need help folding or unfolding my chair or offer to pick up my dog's poop for me. Nothing is too small or too great. I see a dear friend, who has worked tirelessly to keep me alive for the last twelve years and no matter how much I fight him, he always comes running. He picks up the phone during the wee hours of the night when I think I can't go on for another second and listens to my sobs and tells me over and over again, "You'll get there, it will be better, you will see." I see doctors and nurses who stand up for me when so many have failed me. I see old friends welcome me back with open arms after years of my isolation, depression, and illness have torn us apart. I see it all and argue with gusto, that love really does exist. It may be sprinkled among the vast and never ending suffering that makes up our human world, but it is here. And when the pain seems so deep, so tremendous, so heart wrenching, I remember the gestures. I realize the greatness of the small deeds. Suffering is not and will not be eliminated. It is part of the human condition. It doesn't happen for a reason or because of a plan. It just happens. The only way to appease it, to lessen its blow, is to extend the hand of love and kindness. It teaches us, that really and truly, the greatest gift we can give is love. So simple, but so enormous. It is something we all can do, it is a greatness we all posses.
-For my dear Ashlea, who helped me learn how to be a friend.