The Comfort of Small Things

I don't know when I first learned to take comfort in small things; I think I must have been quite small myself at the time. Call it a stratagem, a coping mechanism, or maybe a mental quirk - it's just something that has accompanied me through my life, and it has become my friend through many times of difficulty and sadness. 

In order to take comfort in something small, all you have to do is to focus your senses on that one small thing, and to allow yourself a few seconds to appreciate it.  In that moment of contemplation, stress and anxiety fold themselves back down to a manageable size, and a sense of the deep goodness of life wells up in their place. 

Take the scent of apples as an example.  Many years ago when I was a university student I got the blues, as students often will when faced with life away from home, essay deadlines, and tangled love-lives.  I used to keep a bicycle in my landlady's shed, which happened to be the place where she also stored boxes of apples through the winter.  I used to cycle home each day with a doom-laden heart, push the bicycle into the shed, and then pause in the cobwebby gloom.  For just a moment I would consciously focus on the delicious scent of apples, and slowly, strangely, the world would become a friendlier place.

It’s one thing to enjoy a garden in a general kind of way; but quite another to stop and look deeply into just one bloom on a towering spike of foxglove, to see the intricate delicacy of the inner parts of the flower where speckles and striations lead the bee to the pollen like runway lights. 

I remember a few years ago, as I walked away from a sad graveside funeral service, noticing the snug feeling of my securely-fastened ankle-boots.  What made me aware of such a seemingly trivial thing?  I can't be sure, but I remember how my awareness of the comfortable feeling around my ankle spread into a more general thankfulness for the fact that no part of my body was in pain.  Not only did that moment of awareness fill me with a sense of life's goodness, but it also comforts me today in some strange way, now that rheumatoid arthritis means that being pain-free really is just a memory.  I'm glad to think that I took the time to be glad about my wellness while I had it, just for a moment.

Medieval mystic Mother Julian of Norwich was way ahead of me, of course.  She meditated on a hazelnut, and understood the littleness and fragility of the whole world cradled in God's hand.  Taking comfort in small things means understanding our own littleness, and at the same time it means understanding the importance of little things.  It means getting a right perspective on life. 

And in the words of Mother Julian, "All shall be well."

Originally posted on Pat Gundry's site 2005, edited)