A New Benefit Of Small

Although I find it difficult to start conversations with people at parties, I’m known for striking up conversations with people in lines–at the supermarket, the green grocer, the drugstore, or discount center. The reasons for this difference are obvious to me. I have much less at stake in line than at a party. In the first place, the conversation is limited to the time the two of us are waiting in line together, usually only a minute or two. Second, if the in-line conversation fails, I’ve lost very little; while at a party, a conversational failure doesn’t bode well for the rest of the evening. I think also, that supermarkets and greengrocers are outside the context of my ordinary life, a sort of no-man’s land, where everybody is equally important and deserves respect. Once I set foot into a store, I am on equal footing with everybody else, and I can leave behind my usual basket of worries and self-criticisms. Social gatherings, on the other hand, take place within the homes and among the friends of friends, which means that I drag to these occasions all of my usual neuroses and hang-ups.

All this to say, I’ve always enjoyed these brief in-line conversations. But since I’ve begun seeing and thinking small, these unexpected encounters give me even greater pleasure.

Yesterday, I was in line at the Monterey Market holding my basket of vegetables, when I noticed that the woman ahead of me wore earrings created by my favorite jeweler. After Jonah was born, my pierced ears became painfully infected whenever I wore earrings. After a time of trying every kind of metal available, I gave up and began searching for clip-ons. As anybody with a similar dilemma can tell you, it’s very difficult to find attractive and artful non-pierced earrings.

Then I discovered Marjorie Baer, whose on-line gallery is always filled with a wonderful assortment of both pierced and clip-on earrings at very reasonable prices. I’m so grateful to Marjorie, I often find myself ordering out of gratitude alone, which means I currently own quite a collection of beautiful clip-on earrings.

The woman ahead of me yesterday wore one of my all-time favorite pairs—small silver squares with a delicate thread of copper wire wrapped several times around the middle. I don’t remember what I said, but the woman and I were quickly deep in conversation about our earrings and our ears, my lobes being too sensitive, hers stretched by heavy earrings in her youth. And before it was her turn with the checker, we had both admitted to owning far too many pairs of Marjorie Baer’s.

As I walked home the few blocks from the market, I found myself still smiling about the earring conversation, and feeling grateful to small for having taught me to pay even closer attention to such moments, allowing my pleasure to prolong. Nearing my front door, I remembered another conversation several days earlier at the check-out line at Ikea.

We had waited some time, and just as I thought the previous customer was finishing, the checker had rushed off to fine a manager. When he didn’t return quickly, the woman turned to me to apologize—sort of. “You can never get in the quickest line,” she laughed. “You might think you have, but you’ll always be wrong.”

I laughed, agreeing. Then we launched into a conversation about not usually shopping at Ikea because of the overwhelm factor, what we had found of interest that day, and had both decided that early on a Monday morning was the best time to avoid the crowds.

Yesterday, as I turned the key in the knob at my front door, I realized that I felt the presence of these two new in-line “friends” accompanying me. How lovely, I thought. Small is helping me build a new community of my brief encounters. An unexpected benefit I just discovered!

Moment of Small Beauty


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