Big things, small steps

When it was built in 1962, Seattle's Space Needle was the tallest building west of the Mississippi River.

It was in the sixth grade when I realized that I liked big things. Growing up in a relatively small town where grade school was a 10 minute walk from home and the public swimming pool a five minute car ride away, my sense of space and scale was somewhat limited. After all, the tallest building, a department store, was just two stories high.

But that changed when dad and I crossed the state to visit Seattle, city of tall buildings, crowded sidewalks and six lane freeways. I remember standing near the base of the Space Needle and looking up at its top some 600 feet above us.

And so my passion for big was ignited. Monuments like the Pyramids and the Sphinx. And Michelangelo’s statue of David and the Sistine Chapel. Titanic. Howard Hughes’ Spruce Goose. Symphony No. 7 by Gustav Mahler. The Sunday New York Times.

It’s hard to fully comprehend the complexity and scale of these “big things.” Whether it’s monument, a painting, an airplane or a symphony, they share one common factor: each began with a single idea and a single action that began the building process.

Don’t get me wrong, I like “simple”, too. Simple is good because it’s a good place to start. Take last week, for example.

A friend asked if I’d help with a writing project but, frankly, I didn’t know where to begin. I worried about the “tone” it needed to take, and how many pertinent facts needed to be told. Perhaps it was my zeal for “big” that was making too much of this assignment.

So, I did what every writer (or most anyone facing the situation) does, I put a few words down on paper. They weren’t the right words, but that didn’t matter. What mattered was that they were a start from which the right words emerged after only a few minutes. Five paragraphs later, followed by some fact checking and polishing, and it was done! A brief email sent the project on its way.

Brings to mind the nearly cliché quote about a journey of a thousand miles beginning with one step. It is true. If you want to make a change of any size, you have to take a step of any size.

Recently, I’ve been using this idea to gain a greater sense of personal peace. Admittedly, they’re small steps like listening more and talking less. Or showing more patience and trying to make more people “right” than “wrong.” Or encouraging others in what they’re doing.

Will this usher in world peace? No. Will it help? At some level, yes.

For me, peace is a “one gal, one guy at a time” effort. And each day is the day to wage it.

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Following intense rehab, snowboarder Kevin Pearce returns home

After four months of intense rehab following a near-fatal snowboarding accident, Kevin Pearce returned to his family’s Norwich, VT home last week. Although hopes for an Olympic metal were dashed, for him, being home with his family was a golden moment that gave him a new perspective on his young life.

You can read a New York Times account here and watch NBC Nightly News coverage here. An ItsJakesWorld post from February 27, 2010 is here.

Love as a verb

I spent much of this morning finding and listening to music about home, love, peace, and compassion. And on the way, I ran across a video called “Beautiful Earth” celebrating Earth Hour in the United Kingdom. Blake, the British musical group whose music you hear in the video, is loosely called a “boy band” although that hardly represents the vocal talents of this gifted vocal quartet who named themselves after William Blake, the poet and writer.

All this was sort of a mellow prelude for an after-lunch trip to the fish market and a local retailer that features close-out merchandise. A Saturday afternoon distraction of sorts.

I was unprepared for what would happen, an important lesson about living love, not just thinking about it.

After a quick visit to a nearby pet store to look at cats and dogs up for adoption, I headed to the real destination. Inside, in the bedding section, was a mother and her 22-year-old son who appeared to be a significantly challenged special needs child. He was hunched over and stared vacantly at the collection of colored sheets somewhat neatly stacked on the table.

As I walked over, I found myself uncomfortable being there, even wondering if it was safe. I walked down a different aisle to avoid him. A few minutes later, when I returned to an area just a few feet from him, I felt a certain eerie-ness. I turned. It was the young man, his head pointed away, but his right eye fixed intently on me.

I felt strange, “weirded out,” as some would say.

And then, in what had to be just a split second, I wondered how many others—like me—judged him with their eyes while avoiding our hearts. The feeling of eerie left.

I turned, looked directly at him, smiled and said, “Hi, how are you.” In a clear, strong voice he replied, “I’m fine. Are you okay?”

We had a 30-second conversation about what he was buying with his mother. “Sheets,” he told me saying that he really didn’t understand this “thread count” thing. We laughed.

And then the conversation ended but not before he looked at me and said, “Thank you for talking to me.”

As I watched him disappear down the aisle to join his mom, my eyes filled with tears.

I was embarrassed by my selfishness and all-too-quick judgment. But at the same time, I found myself being grateful for a moment in which love became an action and not just a thought.

High above this overcrowded place
A distant blackbird flies through space
And all he does is search for love.
Love is all that matters in the end…

Love is the oldest secret of the universe
Warm as the touch of two innocent lovers
When they discover that
Love is what we ever really know.

A past and future come and go
Because they do, Love stays with you…

Celebration” by Paul McCartney