This post appeared first in the weekly series, “Denim Spirit” for The Finger Lakes Times: http://www.fltimes.com/opinion/denim-spirit-small-acts-of-love-go-long-way/article_d6840f44-359c-11e7-abf3-df153b039ee1.html
At a family-related party, in a bar, a woman with her teenage daughter introduced herself and thanked me for saving her brother’s life. The daughter chimed in, adding how important her uncle is to her and thanking me also. Now there is an introduction that will get your attention.
They were referring to events that happened a decade ago, and for me something I needed to squint at down the long sleeve of memory in order to see. I did not save his life, of course, it was his willingness to acknowledge a power greater than himself that led to his sobriety, and his willingness to enter the community of other alcoholics and do the work he needed to do. All I did was tell him what I noticed.
I know the feeling that someone has saved your life, though, even if only because they said something.
Some years ago I went to the doctor for a routine physical. Quite soon after entering the room he asked me how I was sleeping. That question led to a 45-minute conversation that centered on the fact that I had become a workaholic and obsessed with fulfilling a task that was impossible for me to fulfill. As I look back on it now, it began an intervention that would slowly evolve over several years to save my life. At the end of the conversation, I asked my doctor why he had asked how I was sleeping. “You look tired,” is all he said.
It was more than the words, of course, the insurance company probably only paid him for seven minutes of his time with me, and in the time-management reviews of the medical practice that month he probably received demerits for taking too long with a patient. In fact, that doctor left the practice soon after and went into another field altogether. I remain forever grateful to him.
Most of the time, it is very small things that make a difference — and the accumulation of many small things that finally creates transformation.
In our glammy, celebrity-studded, everything-hyped media culture we can get fooled into thinking it is the big things, and the famous people, and the power-lunches that do things that change the world. But it is ordinary people doing the small things that leads to transformation. Small words, spoken at just the right time or said just the right way, or hearts and minds opened at precisely the right moment for small words to enter, can make all the difference.
Small acts of love, even teeny tiny ones, add up.
Small acts of love added to small acts of love, accumulating over time, pushing the balance toward transformation, is how big changes for the better happen. Often we only see the sum total of all those small acts of love — and not each small act itself — but the physics of change is built upon the diminutive rather than the big and glitzy. Every cultural or political movement in history that finally transforms the body politic is granular, and builds on itself to swell over time in order to reach the tipping point of change. Every grain is significant to the outcome.
It is easy to get cynical and hopeless in our time, confronted as we are by an onslaught of information weighted heavily with the dramatic, traumatic, and awful. But it is our willingness to continue doing small acts of love, one step at a time, that will lead us to a new and better world.