The Other I

May 8, 2008

In opposition

I’ve just emptied my email trash box filled with panting assurances that “bigger is better.”  This and “younger is more beautiful,” are among the modern advertisements I find most annoying.

I’ve only recently developed an annoyance with the association of young with beautiful.  It is no such thing.  Just today in the supermarket I saw a stunning grey-haired woman probably in her seventies, and the most attractive airline stewardess on American flight I took last week was at least in her mid-fifties.  And look around.  It’s not hard to find young people who are not beautiful by any standard.

However, the “Bigger is Better” mantra is the deeper of my annoyances, probably because I’ve been getting over it for longer.  I was named after St. Therese, the Little Flower, which annoyed me as soon as I was old enough to understand the import of it.  I had no desire or intention to be little anything, and thought at the very least, my parents could have had the foresight to name be after Teresa of Avila who was adviser to Popes and Kings.  By middle age, though, I’d begun to get an inkling that bigger was possibly overdone.  Great people were not always so great, nor, as I wandered through grave yards and cast my eyes upon famous effigies, did greatness really seem to have a long half-life.  Then I began to read about quantum mechanics, where little and big, top and bottom, existing and nonexistent, before and after, are muddled completely. 

It gradually dawned on me that Bigger is perhaps antithetical to the constrains of human-ness.  Needing to be immensely important, terribly powerful, overwhelmingly effective, or hugely influential as I was conceiving them for myself are pretty much beyond the potential of human limitations of time and space.  We cannot hope, or be expected, to do more than fill that small modicum of time and space given to us in one life time.  And so I find great contentment today in being immensely unimportant, ineffective, and of very little influence.  And big, whether it is in political ambition or sexual prowess, holds no allure for me or for anyone whom I love.

Which is probably why I found the story in Maryknoll Sister Jean Pruitt’s brochure about the home she founded in Tanzania for street children so wonderful.  The story is about an old woman who walked each day along the beach as the ocean tide receded to return stranded star fish to the sea.  A young man laughed at her saying there were hundreds of star fish and she couldn’t possibly make a difference.  “It makes a difference to this one,” she said, as she returned another to the water.


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