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Seeing the little things. Photo Phil Houseal


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Little things

by Phil Houseal
Oct 19, 2016


“The things we see every day are the things we never see at all.”
–G.K. Chesterton

The other morning I was in our local grocery store picking up the basics of life, the starting points on every grocery list ever in my life: bread and milk.

As I made my familiar round, automatically tossing into my cart the same things I’ve bought every week for 30 years, for some reason I noticed the many hands stocking shelves, washing floors, sweeping up litter. The red-shirted checkers standing at their stations.

Suddenly I was thankful that this cadre of people whom I didn't know had crawled out of bed and was on duty at 6:30 a.m. so I could buy bacon.

Thank you, I said to the checker and bagger. The two young ladies looked uncomfortable, but I continued: Thank you for getting up and being here so I can get groceries.

They smiled.

On the drive home I did a thought experiment. What if we had just suddenly appeared on earth on this day, and were seeing every little thing for the first time?

Everything would seem a miracle. The sun rising. The birds pecking at insects in the weeds. The insects. The weeds.

What a miracle that you can turn a key a half inch clockwise, and a 1.5-liter motor begins purring, ready, through a maze of gears and cams, to carry you a thousand miles with slight pressure from your foot.

You can pay for those groceries by sliding a plastic card into a slot mounted at chest level. You don't even have to bend slightly.

And all the people at work, seen and unseen.

Who designed and manufactured that shopping cart? Who mined the steel, formulated the rubber, assembled and welded the basket? Who drew the plans? An invisible army spent a career so that I could push the buggy across the parking lot. Who laid the asphalt?

As I drove, I saw bus drivers, police officers, road workers, kids cycling to school. It is a mesh of collaboration and cooperation. One we cease to notice.

You can go on and on with this game–the Internet, airplanes, rockets, bridges, storybooks.

The amazing thing is that everything works. Each one of us, dancing a jig in our own little corner of life, creates a show no single one of us could imagine.

Of course we can't dwell on this, or we would accomplish nothing. We would be in Dory's world, each day having to discover everything anew. Observe any one-year-old learning things we take for granted.

That when you let go of a rubber ball, it always goes down. When it hits the ground, it always comes back up. When you push it, it keeps going in the same direction.

That the sun leaves, then the sun comes back.
That Mom is always mom.
That candy tastes good, but broccoli not so much.
That colors have names.

That there are colors.

But once she learns, she does not have to go back and learn them again. She uses the knowledge to build her perception of the world, like blocks stacking on top of one another. That is both necessary and sad.

That process is so far in our own pasts, we forget when we had to learn that there are colors.

What are we doing today that we take for granted? See it. Appreciate it. Then move on and do the next thing.

“We are perishing for want of wonder, not for want of wonders.”
–G.K. Chesterton