“There is no greatness where there is no simplicity, goodness and truth.”
— Leo Tolstoy
A while ago I asked some questions on this blog about accepting your own greatness. When I googled images to find something cool to go with the post I noticed there were a lot of famous athletes and recognizable moments and brands. It kind of bugged me that something as expansive and meaningful as “greatness” was encapsulated by a few famous images from our popular culture and there was something else that nagged me about the image search. I just couldn’t pinpoint it at the time.
Yesterday I was having coffee with a wonderful friend of mine who has been going through a particularly difficult period in her life. She asked me this, “you’ve gone through some really hard times and reached some pretty dark places. What did you do to pull out of it?” A memory reached me, a seemingly insignificant moment in time… instantaneously that brought three simple words to my lips, “I went small.”
I remember, distinctly, the numbness that followed me around from place to place as I’d gotten particularly good at my routine yet farther and farther from holding any real meaning in my actions. I’d been thinking (logically) that I had SO much to be grateful for, a beautiful home, a loving husband, healthy children and I hadn’t died from my most recent arm-wrestle with the grim reaper in the form of meningitis….so why the hell couldn’t I be happy?! I knew I should be happy but I couldn’t feel it and not feeling it made me feel guilty that I was taking so much for granted. I wasn’t taking it for granted in my thinking mind because I could see what I had going for me and know that it was “good” but I was certainly taking it for granted in my heart because I couldn’t feel the gratitude…I couldn’t feel happy that I had so much visibly in my favor.
One day, my craving for butter found me numb in front of the toaster until I heard the metal scrape against metal as the toast popped up, snapping me to attention. I found that I really enjoyed the savory smell of the butter as it melted mid-smear on the nutty grains of my toast. The aromas, textures and feel of the knife in my hand created a moment when I was engaged in my toast the way I used to be engaged in my life…it was almost the happiness I could remember……………………………………….and then all of it fell from my hands.
I remember hearing the clatter of the knife as I watched the toast hit the plate’s edge, flip off of the counter and somersault it’s way to the floor. I didn’t even try to stop it.
Slow motion I watched, dry side, butter side, dry side, butter side…
My toast, that day, landed butter side UP. It wasn’t elation quite yet but there was a sense of victory.
On the outside I was a woman eating toast.
On the inside I was a champion giving the world the middle finger.
That’s when I realized that while I couldn’t find joy in big life gifts (yet) I could at least feel them in small life gifts. I like feeling good so I started looking for more small victories and when I found them I relished them. I still struggled with the guilt and shame of feeling burdened by the big gifts I had but I learned to spend more time on the thoughts and observations that made me feel happy. Quite simply, the more I felt joyful the more I noticed those small moments. With practice I came to notice more joy in all it’s shapes and sizes until one day…I looked up and found that I felt grateful for my life.
Finding gratefulness didn’t happen overnight but it did happen. The greatness (and great-fulness) I feel in my heart and in life today is made up of a stacks and stacks of the minutia of each moment.
The rest of the conversation my friend and I used the reminder, “go small.”
What I’ve come to know about greatness is this…it doesn’t suddenly arrive nor does it culminate into one knowable moment. It is not the championship ring, or the golden award or the brass ring. The prize only appears after greatness has been practiced. (…and practiced and practiced and practiced.)
Greatness is actually quiet. Your greatness is made up of every little step you take each day that propels you forward. An athlete says, “yes, train every day,” a musician says, “yes, practice every day.” More importantly, for someone who struggles with severe depression or anxiety it is “yes, get out of bed each day.” It might even be (on those days you cannot get out of bed), “be kind,” and lay down the bludgeon we know as guilt or shame.
Kindness is greatness, after all.
Today, no matter where I am in my journey, I remind myself that I’m doing all that I can in the moment (sometimes that is the nothingness I need to recuperate) and that greatness is a culmination of all of my small moments.
When it seems we can’t go on, we can turn to grace, compassion, kindness and forgiveness of ourselves and others in whatever measure allows us to be present.
Greatness is a measure of our ability to be present in whatever we’re facing in each moment especially when facing the moment is the act of a single, simple step.