100: The Littlest Things

100: The Littlest Things

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Messages from Heaven

The Littlest Things

Remember, Angels are both God’s messengers and God’s message, witness to eternity in time, to the presence of the divine amidst the ordinary. Every moment of every day is riddled by their traces.

~F. Forrester Church

One Friday at the end of a particularly hard and stressful week, an employee named JoAnn came to me and wanted to talk. She said she just felt “blah” for the past several weeks.

“It is very difficult to care about anything anymore, not just the little things but even the big things,” she said. Little did she know that I was somewhere beyond that same point.

Her statement, though, took me back three months, when our family had lost a close friend. Zella was related to both sides of my family in various, complicated ways, and was like a sparkling extra grandmother to my children. She had a wonderful, hearty laugh combined with a glimmer in her eyes as she smiled. Zella had a hard life, but was positive and wise in her approach to life.

“Sometimes the littlest things make all the difference,” she occasionally told me. She saw signs of God in those little, everyday things, whether it be her garden, her rock collection, or the chickens that she raised.

But I found myself beside Zella’s bed in an intensive care unit, holding her hand while her children took a break from their vigil. A surgery the day before had revealed a huge mass involving most of her abdominal organs. There was nothing to be done. As Zella and her family hovered in that no man’s land between hope and reality, I wanted to impart to her that God cared for her. I asked if she would like a prayer. Zella nodded yes. I had intended to recite the twenty-third Psalm, but realized I could not—I was totally blank! I was able to stumble through one prayer: The Lord’s Prayer.

In the past Zella and I had talked about my infamous inability to memorize, and I had told her how I had tried often to memorize the twenty-third Psalm, but had never been able. As I sat beside her, a faint sparkle returned to her eyes along with a weak smile. She squeezed my hand. I knew that in normal times Zella and I would be laughing, in a kind way, about my awkwardness at that moment and how I had botched the prayer. But these were not normal times, and she slipped into unconsciousness the next day and died several days later.

The twenty-third Psalm is familiar to those of us from the Judeo-Christian tradition. It begins with “The Lord is my shepherd…” and is perhaps the most recited Biblical verse. I would wager everyone from that background could think of someone they love or loved very much to whom this verse was important. It is common at funerals, and in times of danger and stress.

I made a renewed pledge to memorize it and tried for weeks. I printed it out in a large font and tried to memorize it while driving each day to work. It was a small miracle that I didn’t cause a serious accident. But it just would not stick in my memory.

I became increasingly annoyed and, with disgust, set the prayer aside. Many extra hours at work, the everyday stress of raising children, helping aged relatives and an overly busy life lead to a slow, darkening spiral that I hardly noticed. Over the weeks I became unfocused, and increasing felt ineffectual in many aspects of my life.

So there I was on that Friday night at the end of a long workday, with a woman who needed reassurance, who needed support, who needed motivation. And I was not sure I had any of those things to give. Without great enthusiasm I started one of my standard pep talks.

“You know, JoAnn, it isn’t the job that you do that is important, it is how you do your job…” It sounded incredibly trite as I said it.

I encouraged her to care, because with caring comes hope. And where there is hope, there is always a future, a better day. I threw in an impromptu example of how easy it was not to care.

I said, “If you saw a piece of trash in the hallway, it would be easy not to pick it up. You could say, ‘it is not my job.’ But how much better it is to care. How much more positive it would be to pick up the trash. By thinking and acting positively, you helped a co-worker in a small way, and you helped yourself. Sometimes it is the little things that make all the difference in life.”

I was not sure it was a convincing speech for JoAnn and I was certain it didn’t convince me. I felt even more tired, more spent. It was as if what little bit of hope, if any, I had given to JoAnn was drained from me, leaving me with none.

I gathered my coat, and walked head bowed and disheartened down the hall. As I turned down a hallway, I passed a small rectangular piece of paper on the floor.

I just kept walking.

I walked about six paces beyond the paper, musing about the irony of the example I had just given my co-worker. But I didn’t really want to stop, let alone turn, retrace my steps, and pick up the trash. But I did stop, and stood still for a moment—debating. Sighing, I turned back to the paper.

It was plain white and about one and a half inches wide and four inches long. As I picked it up, I realized it was a bookmark. When I turned it over, in small print, this is what was on the other side:

 

The Lord is my shepherd: I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
He leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul:
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil for thou art with me:
Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

That was a pivotal point for me. It broke my mood and for some odd reason, or perhaps some not so odd reason, I was able to memorize the twenty-third Psalm easily after that day. And that day, and every day I hear that prayer now, I also sense Zella’s twinkling eyes and laughter.

Every day we are presented with opportunities, some large, some small, to move forward in life’s journey. I can tell you many times when opportunity knocks at our door, we don’t open it to see what is there. Many times when a gift is placed at our feet, we don’t stop and stoop to pick it up. But I’ve learned we should, even the littlest of gifts.

~Dan Reust

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