On Tuesday, I took the boys to the Old North Bridge and adjacent Old Manse where I took a series of pictures that I’ve been pondering all week. I’m just going to put them in a series here and then I’ll explain on the other side…
I think that my Quiet Thoughts didn’t come to me until I saw the last picture in this series. Two little boys to scale in two contexts: The physical world they traverse every day and the great timeline of history. Here are my two little boys truly to scale.
My sons loom so large in my life. They are my alpha and omega, the origin of all of my thoughts and deeds. It can be the most simple of things (What can I do today to get them running around and tired so that they can take a nap?) to the most grand of notions (If I get up tomorrow at 5:30, write for 90 minutes, work harder at writing and blogging, can I eventually maybe provide the boys with [x, y, z]?). My boys are the giants of my life, the tyrants of my days.
And yet, they are so small.
In the shadow of that building, in a field of grass, under the watch of grand trees who have seen the world change multiple times over, my boys are tiny, delicate things. Their little legs must work so hard to move them over the seemingly endless field. Their little hands tentatively grasp at the new saplings in the backyard orchard. Their little bodies can so deftly fit between the safety bars on the bridge, the swift and freezing waters of the river underneath seemingly unimportant to them. Their eyes are wider than their brains can keep up with, and I can see them both trying to cram as much information in as they can, looking, touching, running, screaming, paying no mind to my directives of being careful and minding themselves. All I can see are their little bodies, their delicateness in the context of all the stone and the water and the concrete. I see all of the potential hazards and calamity. They see a world too big to comprehend, and yet not big enough to contain them.
As a history teacher, however, I cannot help but see these pictures in the historical context of the setting that I chose. That bridge is so vital to the birth of our country and that mansion in the distance provided setting for great thinking and writing, influencing the course of American literature and political thought. The ground we were walking on is sacred. I geek out just thinking about how important that little piece of land is.
And yet, who are we? We are so inconsequential in context.
Our time on this planet and the influence that we will have on it will be minuscule in comparison.
As a middle-class American mother, I’m supposed to think that this is a bad thing. We birth our children with grand intentions: Doctor, Lawyer, Athlete, Politician… We dream great dreams for them, and the commercialism of our world fuels those flames to fever pitch at poignant times (See: Every commercial break during the Olympics. The “Proud Sponsor of Mom” campaign that P&G does is a brilliant example). You too, the world tells me, are raising the next greatest human to walk on the planet.
While certainly my sons have the potential to do anything they want in the world, and Lord knows I work hard every day to keep as many of those opportunities available to them as possible, I can honestly say that I am of the understanding that my sons will most likely to grow up to be “regular” folk with “regular” lives. Small folk. Ordinary folk. Folk who impact not on the grand stage of world history, but in the small history of the few people in this world who they will encounter and in the small corners of this world where they choose to call home. They will be men of many things, but they will likely not be men of history.
And that is really ok with me. Because history has taught me that the small folk of the world matter, and that the little waves that they make on their little corners can ripple far beyond expectations. There was a morning when the Old North Bridge was “just a bridge,” and it could have stayed that way forever, and it would have been a good bridge, serving an important purpose, even if history never looked upon it. For every name we remember from our history classes, there stands an army of people in the supporting roles, doing great and important work. Those people dwarfed by the giants of history are my kind of people. My sons will probably count among those people.
I don’t want it to seem like I am counting out my sons for anything, that I’m lowering my expectations for their lives. I’m not. I’m really trying to steady my own pace, my own life, my expectations for my own mothering. If I mother my boys as if they are the two singular most important people who have ever graced the crust of the earth, they will grow up to be monsters. I have to remember to stay the course on the things that I’ve been drilling from day one: be thoughtful, be brave, be polite, be kind. I must teach them these lessons because humanity and humility matter, in “big” history and in the history of the rest of us. The small gestures of even our smallest can make a big impact in surprisingly big places. We can choose, through our actions, to make ourselves significant to scale. Positively or negatively.
Finally, these pictures remind me of why I’m a big-picture person. Thinking about the wider context of the small and sometimes difficult moments in life brings me hope and joy. It gives me a reason to take a deep breath, think a little harder, and take the next step forward. Choosing to constantly look at the big-picture is the reason why I can smile at a sunrise or tell a friend to smile on a challenging day. We are small and our actions are smaller, the world is large and the potential of a single day is endless.
It is Friday, dear reader, and you have arrived again. You were able to traverse the challenges of another week and wake up at the end of it with lessons learned and plans for tomorrow. Were you productive this week? Have you left things undone? Will you be up and at it tomorrow? Will you have a fresh outlook by Monday? I hope that you are looking ever forward, with a smile.
On this Friday I wish you color from sunrise to sunset. New green in the trees and on the bushes, dark brown in freshly turned soil. I wish you bright pops of yellow, ever so delicate pinks, and refreshing bright blue on the petals of emerging flowers. I wish you new birdsong, and wings of all shades gliding past your window. I wish you the deep brown of a savory dish, one last late-season stew in the cold of the evening. Or maybe the deep red of a frank at your favorite ballpark (or the golden-brown of a crabcake in Camden Yards). I wish you a contented sigh, a satisfied smile, and the knowledge that your work always brings you closer to your goals.
Until Monday, take care.