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The World in a Grain of Sand

I just moved into a new house, and it’s amazing the difference it makes. The old one was small and sweet and surrounded by beautiful plants that blossomed all year round. The new one is currently surrounded by clay dirt that turns into heavy red mud when it rains. I’m going to have to put in the plants myself. But this house gets lots of light and air, it’s one room bigger, and I feel totally different here.

Recently, I was stunned to learn that in the past, where I live, people hardly ever went outside their own little villages for their whole lives. This island is tiny to begin with, only about eleven miles wide and six miles across. But I’ve heard of people who are alive today, and not that old, who never saw the other side of the island until they were in their twenties.

A hundred years ago, I’m told, the people who lived right on the seashore ate fish, but the ones who lived just a little bit inland never had fish – they lived on mostly pork and potatoes and cabbages. Imagine living in the middle of the ocean and never eating fish!

Back then, people who lived in different places had very different lives. But in some ways, that hasn’t changed.

For instance, the weather. One town just a couple of miles from me has cloudy weather most of the year, and it’s so unexpectedly dreary, people who move there tend to move away again pretty quickly. And on the opposite corner of the island, there’s another town where it’s almost always sunny.

In between, there’s even a little desert, that’s even more bare than the Mojave. It’s completely dry because the island’s single mountaintop blocks all the rain.

I’ve always been haunted by the idea that just by moving a small distance away, a person’s life could be completely different – if only they knew it.

What I mean is, suppose people lived in that spot of desert, and had a hard life, trying to grow food in the dry clay, knowing only hardship and privation. They don’t know that just a mile or two away, there’s a beautiful valley with good soil, lots of rain, and flowers blossoming all the time.

“Some to misery are born … some are born to sweet delight,” William Blake wrote.

Those desert people, all they have to do is explore a little bit. They’d quickly discover that beautiful valley. And if they were willing to up stakes and move, it would transform their lives.

This isn’t just an imaginary situation. As real estate agents say: “Location, location, location.”

So I understand the impulse to keep moving, keep searching for a place that’s a little bit better. Where a richer life might be possible.

Who knows what’s around the next curve in the road, or on the other side of the mountain? Maybe someplace wonderful.

But Blake also wrote: “To see a world in a grain of sand.”

One of my grade-school teachers had each student in the class measure out a four-inch piece of ground and list everything we found in it. When you think of all the things you can’t see, as well as what you can, it’s practically infinite: every square inch of the world contains worlds.

A scientist could spend a whole career learning what’s going on in one tiny patch of ground.

And Linda Gross, Globe Miami Times’ publisher, often talks about how when she started GMT, people thought she would tap out all the topics to write about the area pretty quickly. But GMT has been going for 16 years now, and there’s always more to write about than space to do it.

There’s so much going on in and around Globe-Miami, you could spend a lifetime exploring it all.

The holographic concept says every piece of something contains a little bit of the whole. It’s like when you look at a crystal: the shape of that crystal gets repeated throughout the crystal, down to the microscopic level.

In the same way, you could say every place on Earth contains a little bit of every other place.

In other words, you don’t need to leave home in order to travel. You just need to open your eyes and a willingness to look closely and explore right where you are.

Because there’s a little bit of everything everywhere.

One of my favorite songs has a line about a person who’s far from home, standing on a mountaintop, and she looks down and finds sweet wild blueberries growing right at her feet. I think it means if she stopped looking far away, and started paying more attention to where she is, she would find exactly what she’s looking for.

Still, I’m glad I live where I do. I’m glad I’ve wandered and explored far and wide.

But finally, I also understand staying put.

If I were passing on wisdom to my grandchildren, I would tell them: Range over the whole world, if you want. Or bloom where you’re planted.

But bloom.

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