If the pandemic has brought one lesson home more than anything, it’s that teensy-tiny things can change the world.
We’ve all had the experience of having a glochid stuck in your finger – those tiny bristles on some cacti – and how this can cause more discomfort and ruin your day more than a big splinter would.
Or those teeny little flying insects you can hardly even see – they’re called minute pirate bugs – whose bite feels worse than a full-size gnat.
But there’s enough pain in the world – I’ve been thinking about how tiny things can matter in a positive direction.
The wink that lets a child know everything’s okay.
The O-ring that seals the joint that holds the gas in to make the rocket burn safely.
The moment of kindness that leads a person to drop a quarter in a donation box, that adds up with hundreds of other quarters.
People say “don’t sweat the small stuff,” but it’s the small stuff that can tip the scales into life being enjoyable and beautiful, versus difficult and drab.
I know one woman who’s published five books. But she wrote her first book while she was a single mom, with a child who has autism. And her in-laws were living with her. And they had dementia.
Her secret wasn’t that she made some big, bodacious goal and worked 20 hours a day to make it happen. Her secret was writing ten minutes a day.
In ten minutes, she was able to write one page each day. And some days, ten minutes turned into twenty and twenty turned into an hour. At the end of six weeks, she had finished the draft of a book.
The whole point of the “snowball” analogy – the idea that once you get something started, it accumulates momentum and size by itself – is that it starts with a teeny-tiny, almost insignificant thing.
That teeny-tiny thing means everything.
Sometimes it’s an action, sometimes it’s a small decision, sometimes it’s a physical thing.
You might have heard the official health advice to get at least 30 minutes a day of exercise. For most people, that’s a lot. But research has found that only 15 minutes a day can help you live longer.
And it turns out tiny amounts of exercise can make a huge difference. For people who are sitting all day, getting up and moving around for just two minutes out of every hour reduced their chances of dying by one-third.
Healthline.com reported that “even a single ‘brisk’ minute of moving can have a noticeable impact.”
It applies to weight loss, too. Suppose you lose one pound – that might seem like a tiny thing.
But if you do it again, you’ve lost two.
And if you lost just two pounds a month, every month for a year, you’ll end the year almost 25 pounds lighter than you started. That’s a significant change.
Doing a tiny thing can be like the proverbial butterfly wing that causes rain to fall a thousand miles away. It’s because everything is connected, and any tiny change in one part of the system can ripple throughout.
Once, a small bolt dropped off the bottom of my truck, unbeknownst to me, and the lack of that bolt led to a three-week adventure in trying to get my truck fixed. (It was parked ten miles deep in the Santa Fe National Forest.)
Tiny kind choices are the bolts and screws and nails that hold our lives and relationships and communities together, on a daily basis.
We all know how much a smile or a word can mean.
The movie It’s a Wonderful Life is all about what happens when someone doesn’t do something. The movie perfectly illustrated how one person’s absence – the fact that he didn’t take action – affected an entire community.
It turns out that nothing is insignificant – not even nothing.
Patricia Sanders lived in Globe from 2004 to 2008 and at Reevis Mountain School, in the Tonto National Forest, from 2008 to 2014. She has been a writer and editor for GMT since 2015. She is currently traveling long-term and researching a book on dance. You can follow her writing on the website medium.com, under the pen name SK Camille.