Sunday, March 04, 2007

Small Things Challenge

Among the special exhibits at the quilt show I saw yesterday was one called "Doing Small Things" which was from Fiberarts Connction of Southern California and had been instigated by well-known quilter Peg Keeny. I didn't photograph one of those quilts but I read the artist's statements along with contemplating how that fit the quilts. There were several echos of the "perform small kindnesses each day" which one quilter wrote a mentor had advised her. This is hardly new or earth shaking advice; it's given by Sunday School teachers, Scout leaders, and mothers, not in a knee-jerk way, I think but it is a cliche that seems a little akin to stand tall with your shoulders back and head erect.

Still it's staying with me and it's a Sunday sort of subject (okay, so that's a code word for preachy). The quilter writes that she had tried to follow this advice which can take the form of opening a door for someone, chatting with a baby, picking up something someone has dropped. I try to do these things myself. I'm not sure, if I get seriously introspective, that such basic good manners is strong enough to offset various selfish, less socially helpful impulses. I think I'm a nice person and I'm sure that quilter is a nice person and, indeed, if such advice simply makes people a tad nicer, kinder, then it's oil for the often squeaky wheels of social intercourse.

Another view is that the woman says this advice has stayed with her, which means the mentor had a positive effect on her life which is to say that we can do the same by offering even cliched advice .... if it falls on fertile ground. I think of the parable of the wheat that is sometimes sown on fertile ground and some times among the rocks and tares. She was a sensitive child, which I think I was, and the advice fell on fertile ground. Now I wonder about the extent to which those small kindnesses have become habit. Many of us have a habit of good manners -- and many seem not to have that habit. Does it become less a kindness if it's a habit? No, I don't think so. But if the woman is keeping a tally of doing a small kindness each day I think she should attempt to do a kindess above and beyond the habitual ones. ... Or is that too much to ask?

Beyond small kindnesses, what about small generosities? I note that I do not put change that is given to me when I purchase something into a pocket, I put it in a wallet that is then put in my purse. Men usually carry change in their pockets but not women. So when I see panhandlers on the street asking for spare change, I cannot simply reach into a pocket and produce a few coins, it's a process to take money out of a pocket inside a pocket in a sense. I THINK about keeping change in a coat or pants pocket but I don't do it so I rarely give panhandlers change.

In fact, I'm more likely to give change to guys on the subway, sometimes with a hard luck spiel and nearly always if they're Hispanics, expecially Mexicans, singing a song. I'm a total sucker for soppy Mexican music. But that aside. I nearly always notice when someone has a hard luck story, the people who give money are are the black and hispanic people, and very rarely the whites. The givers may have been there, or know people who are, the whites don't; but they usually look like they can afford to give better than the others.

So that is my sermon today, not telling anyone what to do -- what the hell I'll tell you, BE KIND. And it was occasioned by a quilter saying to her circle, "let's made quilt on the the theme of small things, small acts." A pebble dropped in the pond, I got splashed by one of the ripples, I guess, it was a small thing Peg Keeney did.

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