Sixty seven years ago the Allied forces assaulted the beaches Normandy. Many small details blasted into those moments creating memories that defined the lives present – both survivors and casualties. Back home, my dad was only 10 years old, following the war in morning papers and newsreels. What he remembers most vividly from that day was the radio broadcast that evening when the Liberty Bell was tapped gently with a hammer, seven times, as if to spell out L-I-B-E-R-T-Y returning to the world. It was one of the few times in the last century the fragile and precious bell sounded. But that day it was needed.
It may seem like a small gesture, given the blood running heavy enough to crimson the surf on the shore of France. But it gave meaning to the people who were not there. Little things like this define the moments that make up the memory of a culture, a people with shared history and talk. Little things, small personal details, are what burn into our personal memories and make them real.
Little things are the stories that make up our lives.
This small detail came to me as I was contemplating what was missing from my previous piece on the epidemic of lying in our culture today. What I failed to do was to provide a solution to the problem, a genuine way beyond a coarse society defined by anti-social behavior. The answer, as always, lies in the connections between us. Those connections, like it or not, are defined by the little things. Thank-you moments and small courtesies turn discussions of big issues into personal sparks that transcend the individuals simply saying their piece regardless.
Humor may be an effective way to defuse the anger of politics. But in our daily lives the art of funny often cuts far too many ways – and often turns too much on the cleverness of the comedian. Connections between people come from little things that people do for each other to show respect. Simple grace can go much further than a joke if is heartfelt and looks you right in the eyes as it says something beyond the moment itself. I am sorry, I was wrong, you make a good point – any of these will do when needed in turns.
While this is not an end-time in our history, we are certainly living through a major inflection point of some kind. It will come to be defined, whether we like it or not, but the events of 9/11 and its aftermath. Since that day fear has gradually given way to anger and a corrosive cynicism that fits people who feel they have survived a trauma. As it stands right now Osama bin Laden has won in the sense that he succeeded in defining us on his own terms, setting in motion a series of events which allowed our individualism to crawl inside of itself and tear our society apart. The resulting Managed Depression has separated us across many lines of race, class, region, religion, and basic sense of fairness.
What I think we all have to do is to start building it all back again from little things. I would like the readers of Barataria to make a point of saying “thank you” whenever they can. I hope that you can learn to stop yourself when you want to respond out of anger and resentment and take a moment to find some respect for your opponents first. Whatever your beliefs, however deeply held, I hope that you can find a way to express them as much by your actions as by your words.
I’d like everyone to make the time and space for the grace of little things.
As tiny gestures go, common courtesy is even smaller than the ring of the Liberty Bell sounding miles from the epic struggle for the liberation of Europe. But all the same, it is what makes us one people. The corrosion of disconnected individualism wants us to deny how much we rely on each other doing our part every day, believing life is all about what we can grab for ourselves regardless of how we managed to do that.
If you are as tired of this as I am and want us to get through this inflection point in history, all I ask of you are a lot of little things done well. What do you say?