Renewed Faith in Small

During the pandemic my friends and I mention frequently how grateful we are that none of our family or friends has fallen ill. We also talk about the large amount of luck that has landed our way: we all have family who love us, friends who support us, homes in which to shelter safely, and no immediate money concerns. And as we express our gratitude, we are keenly aware that most of the world is not this lucky.

I am, of course, extremely grateful for all of this, but this week I am most grateful for my discovery several years ago of how to think and see small. At the time, I knew that learning how to focus on small moments or beauty and well-being had transformed my life. Before small I had often felt discouraged, even depressed, and I worried about every little thing—my next class, the dinner party I was to host that weekend, a recent conversation with a friend that had perhaps gone ever so slightly south. Once I began practicing small, most of the discouragement and depression disappeared and my life was frequently infused with joy.

Now, during the pandemic I have greater need and more opportunity to see small, and I am so very much better off for it. Several times every day, I catch myself beginning to worry out into the future: how much longer will this last; will my world be forever changed, will we never again eat comfortably in a restaurant, does nobody really acquire immunity to the virus? Whenever I expand my horizons, I feel panic creeping in. But unlike in the past, I know how to curb that anxiety.

First, I reel myself back in to the present moment, reminding myself that right here and right now, I am just fine. Then I open my eyes wide and look for something lovely to gaze at—a flower, a cloud formation, one of Stephen’s paintings, a moment of rust on the iron railing down my front steps, a dried leaf. Not only does this focus on small distract me, it takes me deep and far into a universe where there is so much to admire.

Several weeks ago when Stephen and I began our long, daily walks, I decided to sling my camera around my neck—just in case I came upon one of my personal photo-ops. Since we’ve been taking the same route each day—along the Arlington between our house and Kensington Circle—I never expected to snap multiple shots each day. But that is just what I have been doing. Every morning, I click the shutter at least four times during the up and back. Not just any shots, but images that offer me a jolt of joy. Today it was a branch of delicate dried leaves floating against the mustard-colored stucco wall of a house, later a balletic smudge on a front gate.

As I walked today I understood how important it is for each of us to cultivate the ability to see small. If we perceive only the large and immediate beauty around us—of which there is so much—we miss out on marveling over all the smaller moments. It’s an exciting process zeroing in on a tiny bit of beauty surrounded by ordinariness or even decay. Each time, I feel as if I have made an important and very personal discovery. As if the universe has reserved so much for me and my intimate gaze.

I now appreciate our morning walks not only as exercise, but as a portal into the beauty that surrounds me. On this one several-mile stretch of Berkeley, I can count on experiencing joy several times each day. As well, I look forward each day to returning home and working with the images I’ve captured, cropping them, or intensifying the contrast, deepening the hues, illuminating a moment in the upper-left-hand corner.

The beauty in this world is infinite. And if we take the time, we can apprehend so much of it. The pandemic has allowed me to know this. And it has given me the opportunity to see more of it than I might have.

On a Pole in Berkeley


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