The other day I was walking along Sea Point Main Road on a mission to draw money and get face cream or hair conditioner or some such mundane toiletry from Clicks, when I found myself captivated by a series of completely ordinary slice-of-life scenes playing themselves out around me.
The wind was pumping, sending flyers, sweet wrappers and leaves into colourful whirlwinds on the pavement.
Outside a Chinese takeaway shop, two bright red and gold paper lanterns were being bashed to and fro, their long tassels tangling and untangling in the wild dance. Underneath one, a wooden ladder had been set up and on the ladder a man – maybe the owner, maybe a manager, maybe just a good friend – squinted into the oncoming gust. He had a pair of scissors in his hands, and in the split second it took me to walk past, I saw him ascend the rungs and start to trim the tassels.
I suddenly realised that this was a first: I had never seen someone trim the tassels of a Chinese lantern outside a takeaway shop before and wondered at the sight. It was entirely ordinary. Nothing I had ever thought about, let alone, hoped to one day witness myself. Yet there was something poetic in the moment that caught the breath in my throat and made me feel glad I had been a passer-by just then.
A few steps further, I saw a family huddling around a table in KFC. The kids in their swimming costumes looked wild-eyed and elated, while the adults seemed wind-swept and exhausted. One little girl stood on the sill of the large window, leaning against the glass, swaying from side to side, holding an ice cream in her right hand. She momentarily lost control of her momentum, sending the ice cream hand smashing into the window pane and leaving a sticky white smear in its wake. Turning to the scene of the crime, an expression of horror flickered across her face, but almost immediately settled back into dream-like serenity when she saw the ice cream was still pretty much intact.
Shooting her mother a glance, she quickly started wiping the mess she had made with her other hand, probably hoping that no one had noticed. I giggled to myself and longed for the simplicity of ice cream cones and swimming costumes and hiding from the wind on a summer’s day.
Later that evening, while attending a show in Stellenbosch, I found myself zooming in on a guy in the band’s back line, playing the tambourine with all the seriousness of a heart surgeon doing a triple bypass. I was completely mesmerised by the way he seemed to snatch the rhythm up from somewhere mid-air and shake it out with a snap of his wrist, his eyes pinched closed in musical rapture. He was pouring his very soul into the menial task of playing the tambourine and it was beautiful.
Mulling over each of these random occurrences now, I can spot the golden thread stringing them all together like semi-precious stones.
It’s something Guillaume and I talk about a lot and, I guess, it comes down to ‘ living the little things.’ Appreciating the moments between moments, because they are, after all, what life is really made up of.
Just before I started writing this, I got a notification that someone had favourited one of my tweets… a tweet I had sent way back in 2012 (who knew I even tweeted back then – haha!). Serendipitously enough the favourited tweet ties in perfectly with ‘living the little things,’ linking to a post on Letters of Note about an astronaut Dad writing to his one-year-old son.
The quote I shared said: “Basically, I miss the elemental things of Earth that we are blessed with each day on the planet but often take for granted.”
This is preceded by said astronaut dad listing a bunch of things he was homesick for:
fresh air blowing in my face. Green, green grass and swaying trees. Birds chirping. Tulips popping up in spring.
Taking hot showers. Lying on the couch. Falling asleep with two big pillows surrounding my head. Diving into the swimming pool after a long, hot run.
Tinkering in the garden. Looking out over the lake as the sun sets. Feeling the warmth of the sun. Gliding across the water in a kayak with fish jumping in my wake.
All tiny little things we hardly take note of, but no doubt enrich our lives.
Living in an era where we practically have the world at our fingertips and on our doorsteps, it sometimes feels like if we aren’t living an epic life, we’re really not living at all.
So, we update our Facebook feeds with glittering ‘Life Events’ – far-flung travels, anniversaries, degrees, engagements, births, weddings, starting dates of dream jobs.
Our profiles become an unrealistic shining resume of epicness, odes to our greatest moments, while we conveniently gloss over the in-between.
While I’m a big fan of celebrating the big things, I don’t think it should be at the cost of the little things.
In a piece titled, ‘What happens when your epic journey ends and all that changed is the scenery?‘ Chris Colin says if he could give his younger self some tips about travel, the first thing would be: “stop looking for epic crud.”
Travel seems big from the outside — epiphanies, transformations, the radical pffft of the mind blowing. But up close it’s just a bunch of tiny stuff. When’s our train again? How come American money isn’t this colorful? Huh, the squirrels look weird here. Turns out tiny stuff is what life itself is made of.
So, here’s to the little stuff, the moments between moments, the pillows under our heads, the morning cups of coffee, the smiles between strangers, holding hands while crossing a busy road, watering the garden, walking the dog, goodnight kisses, laughing at silly jokes, eavesdropping on conversations in the bus, taking pride in our tiniest tasks.