Seeking Smallness

“Do you think we’ll ever really be grown up?” I remember asking my next-door neighbor and best friend Krissy years ago. “Do you think we’ll ever talk about gas prices and health insurance and stuff?”
We two ten-year-olds sat on our purple bicycles with sparkly tasseled handle bars and funky flowered banana seats as we considered our futures. Standing there in my parents’ driveway, I had an overwhelming sense of my own smallness in a big world. I was keenly aware of my youthful freedom and content to leave the “big stuff” to grownups. It felt good to be small.
So how did I get here? One marriage, eight children, and 25 years later, I know more than I care to know and talk more than I care to talk about “gas prices and health insurance and stuff.” There are other things too — like laundry stains and property taxes — things so crushingly mundane and reeking of responsibility that my ten-year-old self could never have imagined them as she flew downhill on her purple bicycle with legs out straight, hands gripping the handle bars, and mouth wide open, laughing and shouting into the wind.
Grown up though I might be, these days I find consolation in the fact that I still sometimes see the world from a small point of view — with the help of the small people who share my life.
A few days ago, I watched my four-year-old Gabrielle and three-year-old Raphael as they strolled through the early spring woods near our house. Wearing mittens and snow boots, they picked through the slushy snow and naked shrubbery to collect pinecones, acorns, stones, and berries. They piled these treasures on a small patch of exposed grass surrounded by snow before hurrying back inside. Then the two of them stood at the window and watched the spot, taking turns looking through a small pair of plastic binoculars.
“We’re feeding squirrels,” Gabby explained to me. “We don’t really know what they eat, so we put lots of different stuff out there.”
“Feeding squirrels” occupied my preschoolers for the better part of an afternoon. Despite the fact that time after time the squirrels failed to show, these two went on searching, collecting, and then racing inside to keep watch.
As I watched them at the window, I thought that it takes a small kind of innocent hope to do what they were doing — to keep watching, to think again and again that maybe this is the time that the squirrels will come. I thought that I was too old and jaded for their kind of confidence and admired their unfailing hope: No squirrels? No problem. We’ve set out a banquet and our guests are sure to show up eventually. Pass the binoculars, please.
Or maybe it wasn’t so much certainty that they were going to succeed that kept them waiting and watching. Maybe it was the fact that they enjoyed the process of their project every bit as much as they would its potential outcome. It is fun to wander in the woods, breathe the fresh spring air, pile up pinecones, and rush breathlessly inside to watch and wait. It takes smallness to embrace the joy in that, too.
Those of us who are burdened with the “big picture” can easily forget, but there is splendor in smallness. Our great God, the same one we recognize in the daunting design of the universe, the same one who hung the stars in vast galaxies — that great God exists in smallness, too.
We can see Him in the soft shape and gentle green of a tiny leaf bud as it emerges from springtime’s bony branches. We can hear Him in the watery trickle of the early April woods. We can smell Him in the cool fresh air that fills our lungs and invigorates our bodies as we walk.
I feel God in the small tug on my shirt sleeve when baby Daniel gestures for me to come. To look. To see what he sees. I see Him in the limber legs and delicate dots of the miniature red and black ladybug that Daniel shows me racing across the ground below.
God is there in my small son’s squatting body as he watches and wonders, hushed in quiet captivation. He is there between the two of us as we share a breathless moment of seeing smallness, of being small, together.

Danielle Bean

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Danielle Bean, a mother of eight, is Editorial Director of Faith & Family. She is also author of My Cup of Tea: Musings of a Catholic Mom (Pauline 2005) and Mom to Mom, Day to Day: Advice and Support for Catholic Living (Pauline 2007). Her blog is a source of inspiration, encouragement, and support for Catholic women of all ages and life stages.

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