In July, Sarah and I went to my hometown to speak at the little public library where I worked when I was 14. My mom and stepdad and some of my aunts and cousins and even some strangers packed the tiny room that in the late ’90s was a garage for the village’s EMS.
Someone (unfairly) asked me (in the presence of my mom) whether I’d ever consider moving home, back to the place in Ohio where I’d graduated a decade and a half ago.
“I mean, could you do this sort of thing” — she referenced the new-monastic-like, Year of Small Things, radical-faith thing — “here in a rural place or a small town?”
The most powerful part about sharing the story of The Year of Small Things has been watching other folks’ imaginations spark. “How can we do this here?” people ask. That desire to act doesn’t always follow our discussions or presentations. Actual reactions to our Q&As and lectures ranges from “I think I’m on board” to “Oh, isn’t that nice for you two young people.”
With others, it’s “What in the actual crap are you talking about?”
But last weekend, I was overwhelmed to see the sparks of light, a room full of “yesss”es, at a church in New Mexico. I spoke at a conference in Albuquerque with Kyle David Bennett, author of Practices of Love (read it) and a passionate disciple-maker. We melded our messages, coincidentally, into one theme: we’ve gotta be loving God and loving our neighbor; like, actually doing it with our minds, our hands, “our shadows,” as Kyle said. People were ready, hungry, to just get on with doing it.
And then Dave and I returned home. We’re back into our small things, quietly. And it feels very, very small.
“What’s for dinner Weds?” Our Small Things dinner text thread began with Sarah on Monday morning. (Tom cannot stand to be part of these meandering conversations about how many hamburger buns or bags of grapes we have.)
I opened my calendar, trying to decide if I had time to go to the store: a meeting at church, tea with a friend; another meeting. A run; rest in the evening … “Yep, I can pick up another bag of frozen sweet potato fries,” I texted back.
Really saving the world now.
“Your house or mine?” And because we chose mine, I vacuumed while the girls fought in the bathroom over who was hogging the stepstool. “We’re GOING TO BE LATE,” said one child from the kitchen … even though she didn’t have her own shoes on and the contents of her backpack appeared to be vomiting on my table.
Just like yesterday and last week and last year.
What is so radical about any of this?
But really. What is so radical about any of this?
And here’s where the risk seeps in: that in order to do these radical things, we must move to Albuquerque. Or Philadelphia. Detroit. Anywhere but in our own mundane little neighborhood where we know people and everything feels familiar and because it’s familiar it’s not anything special.
… Resist that narrative — or, maybe I should say, don’t sit back and assume this sort of thing happens elsewhere.
(And by “this sort of thing,” I mean loving your neighbor; your actual neighbor, the one who wheels out his garbage can too late on Tuesday and maybe wheels it back in on Friday, but not before it’s tipped into the street and some lone jug, empty of its chocolate milk (but not rinsed out) blows down the street until it’s caught in leaves in your gutter. And the outside of that jug is dirty and sticky when you pick it up and you want to attribute the whole irritation to some character flaw of his. That neighbor. Especially that guy. I’m talking to me here.)
While all of us Small Things people sat at my table Wednesday, a different neighbor — not the chocolate-milk-jug one — poked his head in to invite Dave over later for a drink.
This neighbor’s been the familiar half of a couple who live next door. The routine tumbled into foreign territory last month when I called 911 for her; later that week, I prayed with her family in the ICU and later spoke a eulogy, and now — after all the adrenaline stuff, now …
Now we’re back to the mundane. But it matters more to him now. And to us. This is why we do this stuff: so that when our presence, our shadows, are all we’ve got to offer, that’s enough.
I’ll mow his grass. We’ll talk over the fence. We’ll have a meal together. He’ll visit our church every once in awhile. He’ll ask big questions. I’ll listen.
The other night Dave and I and this neighbor sat in the backyard and talked, our heads gazing up at the maple above us. Its leaves are still green. “Lots of leaves to fall,” I said.
“It’s a huge tree.” His arm followed the branches from his yard to where they hang over my garage. “It’s rare in Lansing for a tree to cover two properties like this.”
So, so small things. You have to look close to even see it; you have to strain over the sound of crickets and faraway EMS vehicles to hear. But it’s something.