Today in one of my classes, we had a thought-provoking discussion on the grandiosity of “the little things” — both in maintaining solid relationships and in living a fulfilling life. How enormous gestures, overtly life- and world-changing acts are no more significant than teeny meaningful moments.
This reminded me of something I saw several years ago. I was somewhere between five and eight years old and I was staying at my grandparents’ house for a few days. When my younger brother and I woke up in the morning, our grandfather took us downstairs for breakfast — our grandmother would be down shortly.
While I was eating my cereal, our grandfather was busy by the sink with a mug of water. I asked what he was doing, and he told me that our grandmother had a cup of hot water every morning and he was preparing it for her.
Then he put his index finger to his lips and leaned in close, about to divulge a deep secret. “Now, she’ll think it cooled down by the time she gets downstairs, but,” he looked around for effect and continued in a stage whisper, “I’m adding just a little bit of cold water so she doesn’t burn her tongue.”
“That’s true love,” I remember thinking.
Of course, I was very young, so I’m not sure if I truly came to this insight at the time, but if my memory can be trusted, that’s exactly what crossed my mind in that moment. I was touched then, and even now, as I recall this moment which has crossed my mind countless times over the years, I am moved almost to tears.
It was such a minuscule moment, it could easily have passed without my noticing. I might have brushed it off as many grownups are apt to do as we go through life, not noticing the monumentality of ordinary moments. Thankfully I was very young and very impressionable when I had the privilege of this experience. I took note and hope to hold it with me for always.
Not only was the moment fleeting, but what made it so missable was the (seeming) smallness of the gesture itself. It wasn’t, in the words of Anne and Gilbert Blythe, “diamond sunbursts and marble halls” (Anne of the Island, Chapter 41). He wasn’t buying her roses and reciting love ballads to her. He wasn’t trying to do anything grand or make her think he was so wonderful — from what I understand, she never knew of this and he didn’t need her to. He was merely acting selflessly out of concern for his darling’s comfort.
What’s more, it wasn’t as though they were still newly weds by this point, fawning over each other, “sucking up each other’s awesome,” as Janice Ian of Mean Girls might say. They’d been married for several decades, certainly enough time to slip into comfort and the laziness (or what have you) that often follows. And yet, while it wasn’t necessarily necessary, my grandfather took that extra moment to secretly cool down my grandmother’s hot water — just a drop — so she wouldn’t burn her tongue.
More than ten years later, this memory continues to inspire me and invoke what my current creative writing teacher might refer to as ‘gooeyness’. It reminds me to do those really teensy things because they’re more significant than I can even know and to stop and take a moment to notice such little, beautiful moments that happen all day long, starting at the breakfast table.