Title: Little Things
Delivered on Tuesday, February 6th, 2018 (in Bowmanville, Ontario)
We all want big things.
Big houses. Big bank accounts. Big beautiful cars.
The bigger, the better.
But what if we’re missing something.
What if the meaning of our lives hides itself in the little things? In the ordinary? In the every day?
A cup of coffee. An open door. A good morning. A hug. An unexpected visit from a friend.
When I was a younger and in teacher’s college, I was placed in a grade 3 classroom in Scarborough. I did very well, but a little girl taught me more, that all courses at the University ever could.
She taught me about the little things.
Back then, it was my responsibility as a student teacher, to plan and deliver the art lesson.
Each child would get their canvas. A simple, white piece of paper. Multiple sheets of colourful recycled paper to cut out shapes and figures. Some glue and a pair of scissors.
The children were instructed to use their imagination, obey their inner muse, and cut out symbols and shapes that would explore their dreams.
It was a spectacular lesson.
My lesson plan hit all the right notes.
It covered the necessary curriculum. It kept all the kids busy for an hour and I was certainly scoring some brownie points with my host teacher, who would be evaluating me in a few days.
A youngest in the corner, was cutting out a Stanley Cup. Another one was creating a fire truck. A young lady close by was making a microscope, and another one was cutting out a dress to fit her princess.
Suddenly, I felt a tug on my pant leg, and heard a young girl ask me if I could get her black piece of paper.
This was strange and very unexpected.
A small request, but truly weird.
She was very specific too and very persistent.
She wanted a ‘black’ piece of paper.
I found her request odd and I was busy, so I wanted the problem to go away, as quickly as humanly possible. In the nicest way possible.
This little girl was clearly after something, but I wasn’t seeing it. She was listening to her muse, no matter how misguided or drunk she I thought she was, but I couldn’t see it, nor was I interested in taking the time to find out.
I was preoccupied with more pressing matters.
The big ideas.
Executing my big lesson.
I don’t remember what I told her, but it was something that definitely let her down gently.
I clearly didn’t have a black piece of paper. I mean, who keeps a black piece of paper around? What’s the point? Everyone knows that a piece of paper should be white. This is universally sound logic. It makes sense. Black is ridiculous. How are you supposed to draw anything?
I told her that she should probably work with what she had. I also told her that this distraction cost her some time and she should really get to work.
She said thank you and kindly went back to her table of friends, to resume her art.
I gave this no more thought, and she didn’t come back to see me again.
At the end of the day, the classroom teacher collected all the children’s art, and she handed them to me in an art case. I went home, and a few days later began to evaluate them, one by one.
The children’s art was great. Not very complex, but I marvelled at their imagination and effort.
It was truly amazing to see their hopes and dreams, in all its glory, expressed on their white sheets of paper.
Until I saw a black one.
I had to look again.
It was a white piece of paper, just like every-one else’s. But it was completely black, because it was covered with tiny, black pieces of paper, that were ever so carefully glued together in perfect harmony. This took her a lot of time and effort. That’s for sure.
She must have worked very hard and very fast.
For the first time, I could see what she was after.
I could see what she wanted. Why she came to speak to me.
The paper had to be black because she needed the night sky. Her dreams were as big as the universe, and her page was filled with many tiny silver places to visit.
She created the night sky, with tiny shimmering stars.
This little girl was trying to show me that she wanted to travel to the distant stars. That her dreams were bigger than me and her, and this world, but I wasn’t listening.
It was such a little thing.
Black paper instead of standard white one.
Such a little thing, but yet so big.
Such a simple and obvious request. A request I didn’t take the proper time to listen to.
I didn’t help her. I let her fend for herself.
She helped herself.
I really failed in my purpose as a teacher, and that didn’t sit well with me.
I felt gutted. Foolish. I was really mad at myself.
I imagined my future where young men and women would no longer tug at my pant leg because I had nothing meaningful to say to them. It doesn’t matter if you’re eight or eighteen. Everyone can use a little guidance. Everyone can use a little lift towards their dreams.
This was an important lesson for me.
One that changed everything.
A lesson in little things. Little things that are big with meaning.
I have never forgotten the lesson. I have carried it in my heart ever since. It has now been over twenty years since it happened, and I can still see her smiling face, and her beautiful artwork.
I can see that black piece of paper, and a sky of infinite possibilities.
What a magnificent lesson.
When you have a dream, when you know where you want to go, don’t listen to anyone, or let anyone stand in your way.
Don’t get discouraged.
Don’t take no for an answer.
If it has to be black it has to be black. If you need time, take the time. If you have to make mistakes, then make mistakes. Fail miserably for as ever long as it is going to take.
Take your lumps and turn the other cheek.
The small things matter.
They matter a lot.
They are the most important lessons. That’s where life hides her insights and truth and that’s where she will teach you her greatest lessons.
Big things are nice, but they fade fast. They are easily seen. Easily gotten. Easily forgotten.
Small things are subtle, but they stick with you. The gnaw at your soul. They prick your conscience.
They turn your world black.