We seldom have a sense of the magnificent – of the grand, of the things that though difficult are worth the effort and the risk of failing. We seldom have a sense of the things that should be. This lacking makes our lives boring, makes us (as a species) boring.
When I was pondering this, something occurred to me: the magnificent does not have to be large. It need only be extraordinary; it need only be significant; it need only call to our spirits. It is easy to get caught up in the size of an endeavor and fail to notice the grandeur in small things. Some things are astounding if we really choose to examine them – even if they are not showy. In fact, some of these unshowy, unlarge things are the greater enterprises.
I hike – as a rather involved hobby. A lot of people (including me) would fall into the habit of comparing “views”, vistas, sometimes breathtaking sites. We would treat them as connoisseurs, almost as food critics, holding up one against another, picking out their details and their shortcomings. When I caught myself doing it, this struck me as rather silly. The views were often startling. But every time I focused on one, I began to force myself to turn around, to notice the details of the non-view. Water trickling over moss-covered rocks, naked trees just beginning to bud, leaves and needles piled over years, icy fingers reaching down over small plants, dirt unique to a particular place. What made one view more significant than another?
Small acts of kindness or generosity coming at the exact right time are sometimes as profound as great projects. I mean the things that touch your soul that are magnificent even as they remain unsung.
One of the most extraordinary things I have ever encountered occurred at a men’s shelter. Most people remain unaware of it. One of the residents was terminally ill. When he was put on hospice care, he wanted to return to the shelter – the only home he had. During his last weeks, the other residents took care of him. They did this with great patience, tenderness, compassion, empathy, dignity. They weren’t family members; they weren’t social workers; they weren’t volunteers. They were just the other guys living at the shelter. For that time, at least, they were transformed.
This is not the type of story that you see on the news. It is not the type of story that is recounted as history. In the grand scheme of things, you may not regard it as perilously important. But it is magnificent.