For better or worse, little things always add up. I paid no attention to the tiny snowflakes yesterday morning in Tacoma. One here, one there, they twirled and drifted weightlessly in their slow descent, only to vanish on wet ground. Like money spent on coffee, a few extra calories, one day’s thin trace of dust, or unread mail, they seemed insignificant, easy to ignore. But then around noon I looked up to notice the cumulative change. With silent and steady persistence they had multiplied into a tumultuous tumble of feathery whiteness, covering the ground, turning the bare twigs of my Japanese maples into intricacies of lace, but also weighing heavily on the pots of cyclamen I had not yet planted. I sat alone in a room filled with that luminosity particular to light reflected off snow, and pondered the importance of paying attention to the little things.
Among them are the singular moments of childhood that add up to days and years. While we’re not noticing, our kids turn into adults and we realize childhood wasn’t about big things like the size of your house, bank accounts, or vacations. It was about the number of hugs and giggles, baby steps, lesson learned, story books and goodnight kisses.
I look at little spaces on the calendar and regret how many days have passed since I called certain people just to say “I love you,” or visited an old friend. Month-by-month another year went by without enough walks on the beach. The exhaust of too many cars pollutes the air. The books I mean to read, the unused balls of yarn, the recipe clippings, the emails, the weeds, the questions I never asked my mother before it was too late, have all been little things that add up to be subtlety guilt producing, stressful or sad.
But on the positive side there are those that culminate in something good. I think of the succession of days and nights, the laughs, concerns, tender moments, mundane chores and long talks that add up to marriage, or how over the years, small kindnesses and hours shared become a beautiful friendship. Step-by-step a goal is reached. Spare change piles up in a jar. Many photos make an album and stars, the night sky. Repetitions in the gym build muscle. A quilt evolves from bits of cloth and countless stitches. Practice makes perfect. Typing one word after another, my novel comes to life.
The choices we make accumulate. Whether as individuals or whole societies, our priorities, the way we spend our money, time, resources, thought, effort and energy, all add up to the sum of our lives and the legacies of our civilizations. Even if my own life turns out to be very long, and I hope it will, it’s still half gone. I find myself assessing it, for better or worse. So here is my firm intention: to pay attention. In the end I hope to see how a lot of good little things, like snowflakes, added up to a life as beautiful in memory as a white winter day in Tacoma.