Small Acts

A writing friend wrote to me lately, “I am a bit discouraged about continuing on with my piece. First, some sad stuff happened next. I need to transform that for my own well-being ….and plus, I was just at such a fragile age – I really am bigger than age 14 now – and all that happened really then were small acts.”

Small acts.

Something in me shifted when I read this. A small voice rose, and twisted, and grew into a shout. I wrote back to her.

“Oh no you don’t, young lady.” My friend is, I don’t know, in her late sixties, bright and accomplished. I have no business calling her a young lady. I railed on:

“Your writing sparkles! I read a LOT. I know! Have you read “Durable Goods” or “Joy School”?”

If I were speaking to this dear friend in person, I would have been flinging my arms in the air for emphasis.

“Small acts! Small acts are the stuff of life! And furthermore, in our memories, we are all still – we are always – fourteen. We are every age we’ve ever been!”

I have a feeling that someone else said that before me. I have no idea who, but it rings strangely familiar as the words fall across the page.

My husband is on the trampoline with our grandson. They’re playing the ‘bad guys shooting the good guys’. Girls don’t do this, he reports to me later, his eyes sparkling. Having had four daughters, this kind of play was a revelation to him. A renaissance. He found his five year old self again at the ripe old age of sixty-one.

And then there’s me. One of my first acts of motherhood, was to order a few Dr. Seuss books. The Cat in the Hat. One Fish Two Fish. Green Eggs and Ham. As an adolescent, I had shelved Dr. Seuss in some dark recess of my brain, turning instead to the mature books of Judy Blume. But all it took was opening the first pages, reading aloud the words again…. I do not like them, Sam-I-Am. I hadn’t forgotten at all. It was there all along. Even the musty smell of the library I visited as a child. The wooden cube shelves in the children’s section towering over me. Books of varying heights arranged in alphabetical order, jacketed in crispy-sounding cellophane. I’m still that five year old, holding my mother’s hand, Dr. Seuss, Beatrix Potter and Curious George pressed hard to my chest.

And of course, when I was fourteen, four teenage girls at the roller rink threatened to beat me up because my jeans were too tight and my shirt cut too low for their liking. I hid in the bathroom, then never went roller skating again.

They matter, don’t they, these moments? They’re worthy of our words, our shouting, our stomping of feet in indignation on the page. The mere clenching of a jaw, the tightening in our chest, desolation, contentment, sorrow, disappointment. Purely because they happened to us is reason enough. This is our story – all our stories – and it all matters. The birth of a star. Black holes. String theory. Birth. Death. Illness. Marriage. Loss. Peeling potatoes and picking up the mail. Falling down and scraping a knee. The day you got a C-plus instead of an A. The stuff of life. All the ages we’ve ever been. Small acts. All that’s ever been, all that will ever be.

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