An Expansion of Small
The past months have been a challenge, and the coming months will continue to be difficult. Three weeks ago I had a mastectomy, and in January I will begin chemotherapy. Every few days–sometimes even hours–I feel as if a tsunami has swallowed me up. But throughout, small has continued to sustain me. Whether I stop to watch one last yellow leaf fluttering at the tip of a branch or approach to take in the delicate curl of peeling paint on a Berkeley house, I still experience infusions of joy. And always, as with my very first discovery of small, these moments remain with me.
Then last week, I realized that small doesn’t need to be limited in time or size. Larger and longer experiences can offer the same benefits as those we would all agree are small. Invited to a delectable lunch for four at a friend’s, I knew I wanted to hear more about a situation her husband had become involved in a few weeks earlier, when a friend from years and years ago had contacted him. The friend’s situation had become dire. He has no family, is suffering from dementia, and had been evicted from his apartment. “I don’t know where else to go, so I thought I’d come see you,” the friend announced during a phone call several weeks ago.
“That sounds fine for a few days,” my friend’s husband replied. “But next week I have to work a great deal.”
My friend and her husband knew the visit would be difficult yet wanted to help an old friend. But he never arrived. He was involved a car accident near Marysville and ended up in the hospital, where he remained for two months. During those months, he took to calling my friend and her husband every afternoon.
After two months the hospital got him a room in a local Holiday Inn and sent him on his way. Realizing this was only a short-term solution, my friend’s husband set to work searching for an Air B and B in Portland, where his friend could better afford to live. Then he traveled from Berkeley to pick him up, settled him in his Air B and B, stocked him up with some food and snacks and drove back to Berkeley.
Every night since then, my friend’s husband phones his friend in Portland, asks him what he wants for dinner, and sends a DoorDash to deliver the food. As well, he’s spending a great deal of time researching how to help his friend obtain the long-term care he needs.
Listening to this story, my own troubles floated away, and I began to feel lighter, buoyant, like a feather carried aloft by the wind. And looking around the table, I saw the sweet smiles playing upon the faces of the other two listeners. This story of generosity and compassion was affecting all three of us.
Some of us may be experiencing personal difficulties, here in the United States democracy is struggling, and the planet itself is in crisis. But within all of this sadness, we can find good, compassionate, generous people. And some of us are lucky enough to consider them friends.
When my friend’s husband had finished telling his story, I said to him: “Tell your friend J that I’m really grateful to him for this opportunity to see a side of you I’ve never known before.” And as I said this, I knew what I had just heard would sustain me for weeks to come.