My first clue came from the lips of an animated cucumber.
It was October, and my feelings of restlessness had been building for months. In May, I completed one year of blogging–an experiment in writing for someone other than my college professors. The feedback was encouraging, and the sense of doom attached to the blue “Publish” button diminished. Perhaps most critically, I was enjoying the process–the sorting through of thoughts and experiences, the release of stories into cyberspace, and the conversations that followed.
It was going well, but with the initial experiment complete, I began to question. What was next? Did I need to experiment with another kind of writing, another format? Did my blog need more focus as a parenting blog or a life-in-the-city blog or…? Was I ready to take this to the next level and be a more disciplined writer? What would that even look like with a preschooler and a part-time job? Why in the world was I even writing at all? What did it all mean?
(Inner turmoil is one of my special gifts.)
And then one day, the animated cucumber spoke. I was putting in a Veggietales video for my kids, and using the remote to skip though the previews (as parents must do every single time we put in a DVD, and always with different buttons–why can’t this be a standard ‘menu’ function?). Anyway. I only gave the cucumber about 2 seconds to speak before I passed by his vegetable version of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” but it was long enough to hear him say this:
“I want to live a Big Life.”
I want to live a Big Life. My finger kept clicking, the video began, but the phrase ran though me. I walked into the kitchen. I want to live a Big Life. I started sorting the dishes. A Big Life.
There it was. With this phrase something fell into place. This is what had been bothering me. I want to live a Big Life.
And my actual life is so very small.
My actual life, perhaps like yours, is full of life-altering decisions like whether or not to buy string cheese. Or new snow boots. Or the inane beeping princess toy that makes me want to hide in the bathroom.
But Mama, it’s the only toy I ever wanted in my whole life.
My days are dictated by emergencies like stomach viruses, head lice, and missing the school bus. Should I make a doctor’s appointment this time? Is it ethical to give children tylenol just so they’ll go back to sleep? Do I really need to take another day off work? Why can’t you just get your darn coat on the first time I ask you?
On and on and on.
Do you ever go to bed at night, utterly spent and exhausted, and wonder what in the world you did that day? Life can seem so full, and yet, so very very small.
After all, you and I are two of 7 billion people on this planet. That makes us objectively (no inner turmoil required on this one) minuscule. Tiny. We feel small because we are small. And though we are among the most privileged people in the world (Are you reading these words? Congratulations, you’re literate and have access to a computer), this doesn’t necessarily translate into significance. Sometimes it’s even worse to have a bit of privilege, because we feel that we ought to have made something big out of our lives.
Did I really get a Master’s degree to do laundry all day?
But what about the people who are living the Big Lives: celebrities, athletes, politicians, published authors, CEOs and various professionals at the top of their fields? I suspect that this sense of smallness doesn’t go away with a list of accomplishments or a position of power. There is always more; there is always the next thing. Ambition is never satiated.
And even if, for the sake of argument, these super-people feel as Big as they seem, how many are we talking about? Ten million people? Perhaps a hundred million? Should we count their proud parents and grandparents? Even with all this, we’re only talking about a tenth of the world’s population.
This makes living a small life the norm.
And this makes me wonder if we’ve got the whole thing upside-down.
What if it is the small things, the small acts, and the small lives that really matter?
In my favorite C.S. Lewis book, The Great Divorce (which has nothing to do with marriage), a man is taking a ‘tour’ of heaven when he sees an unbearably beautiful woman accompanied by procession of people, animals and angels. Amazed, he wonders aloud,
‘Is it?… is it?’ I whispered to my guide.
‘Not at all,’ said he. ‘Its someone ye’ll never have heard of. Her name on Earth was Sarah Smith and she lived at Golders Green,”
‘She seems to be… well, a person of particular importance?’
‘Aye. She is one of the great ones. Ye have heard that fame in this country and fame on Earth are two quite different things.’
The guide goes on to explain the woman’s greatness. She cared for the people and animals she encountered. She loved them so well that, in turn, each was able to love the people and animals they encountered better after meeting her. ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘It is like when you throw a stone into a pool, and the concentric waves spread out further and further. Who knows where it will end? Redeemed humanity is still young, it has hardly come to its full strength. But already there is joy enough in the little finger of a great saint such as yonder lady to waken all the dead things of the universe into life.’
And I wonder.
What does it really mean to live a Big Life?