I’ve spent nearly two hours now signing my name to card after card in careful repetition. Careful repetition: the very phrase rings like an oxymoron to modern productivity and consumption. Yet I find a part of myself revealed in the manner by which the pen slides across the paper—a swirl, a twist, and the sound of metal against parchment. Like a Pointillist, these dots of thought, action, and process fill up the canvas of my life, revealing a picture that only time will tell. Wherein did I begin to believe that greatness is that singular action which, mindful as I must be, I will see, seize upon, and make a name for myself? Is it greater greatness to sway the masses with a face of promise and words of honesty, or to sit beside the bed of a dying man, no longer able to rise, nor even to sit—humbled by the mercilessness of aging? Is it greater greatness to forgive the a murder than forgive the careless drivers who, ten times a day, unapologetically cut me off?
These insignificancies are like the leaves of a tree: the autumn-yellowed maple is a thing of beauty, and yet it is little more than the collective summation of one insignificant leave upon another. Or those tiny stones which make up a binding presence of concrete: one, by itself, wounds the heel and troubles the foot. But together, mixed with the fine powders of lime and mortar, these stones are an unbreakable force—as I found, pouring the footer for a new mail box post on Monday night. A cold drizzle of rain had fallen since early in the afternoon. The sun was gone and a haze of mist and fog left the air heavy. I easily dug in the soft soil: 18 inches deep. I easily mixed the Quickcrete with water, turning it with repetitive motions in a white bucket. Poured out, it sloshed into the hole, gurgling here and there where it seeped between the reinforcing supports, or where a pocket of air gave way to the weight of dust, gravel, and water mixed. Flattened, covered, I let it sit—setting to the task of cleaning my tools, an act of repetition: fill the bucket and swish is around; empty and repeat. Spray off the shovel, then rub with gloved hand at resistant cement; repeat.
A few tiny pebbles poured out of the bottom of the bucket as I cleaned it: insignificant, disregarded, petty, worthless. And yet, was that not what I paid for: insignificant pebbles well mixed with insignificant dusts and sands—when mixed become a support that only a great effort will undo? So I am forced to acknowledge anew: there is meaning in the insignificant.
And so I drive home the same repetitious path each way; the journey is different. I rake the discarded leaves from my yard with the same repetition of movement; but the process is new. I inscribe my name with ink across card after card to the sound of paper fibers tearing; but I am revealed anew, a Pointillist, a tree; a leaf, a stone.
Will wrote, “Be not afraid of greatness; some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them.” Each of these people attain to greatness by leaps and bounds—the suddenness of a decision, a flash of heroism, a moment of unparalleled restraint. With due respect, I add that for many others, greatness is less a fact of “leaps and bounds” and more a summation of the insignificant moments of faithfulness, constancy, and commitment. Such men and women as these build greatness by pebbles and leaves. Pebbles and leaves are the makings of the tree’s beauty and the concrete’s strength. Strength and beauty, pebbles and leaves. Greatness is born of meaning mined from details too often overlooked.