THE SMALL MAGIC OF DOING LITTLE THINGS
By: Lauren Anderson
A few years ago after my brother Kevin died, the family decided to dedicate a bench to him at the Minnesota Zoo. He loved animals, and they loved him. He just had a way with them.
I come from a deeply animal-loving family. The zoo was something we did together and still do, even though we’re all adults now. Maybe even more so as adults.
We decided to have the bench placed by the prairie dogs, because they were Kevin’s favorite.
When the bench was ready to be put in it’s spot, the zoo offered the family the chance to come in early before it opened and have a little reception. So we could see the bench, and watch the zookeepers feed the prairie dogs, and ask them questions and stuff.
It was wonderful and very touching. The staff went above and beyond. And I couldn’t help but think that Kevin would be pleased with his bench, and delight in watching over the drama of the Prairie Dog community.
But it was still emotional. Everyone was crying because we missed him, and then laughing cause the prairie dogs kept doing irresistibly cute things.
I remember feeling at odds with myself. That very strange and very human feeling of grief mixed with celebration. It wasn’t a sad day. The sun was shining and we were at the zoo! But we also couldn’t deny the ache of the reason we were all there.
When the zoo officially opened, the family was invited to spend the day. I remember walking around, sort of listless. Not wanting to leave, but not really in the typical mood I associated with the zoo.
And then we rounded the corner to the Carousel.
I declared, “We’re all riding the carousel. We have to. That’s exactly what we need right now.”
I was adamant. I felt it deep in my bones. Something compelled me to urge my family to ride.
It took a little convincing of my other brother, but my sisters and mom were game. Eventually even my grandparents, and my step dad agreed. The whole family was going to ride. And that was that.
The carousel at the zoo is beautiful. Every kind of animal exquisitely carved and painted and polished. Glorious colors and soft calliope music. So ornate, so fanciful. Like a dream come to life.
I chose the seahorse. Or perhaps it chose me. Who knows?!
Everyone chose an animal that suited their mood and we were off. The gentle rocking up and down soothed my soul in a way that is hard to describe. It felt like I was being rocked like a baby. It gave me hope in a weird way, and soothed my heart.
And because the carousel goes around and around on a loop, with no real beginning or end, it almost invites you to pause and take a deep breath. To literally, sit back and enjoy the ride.
Even my mom who gets a little motion sick can hang on the carousel. Because it’s not about going fast. It’s about slowing down and enjoying the moment for what it can be: MAGICAL.
When we got off the carousel, you could see a marked difference in how my family felt. Not suddenly happy and bouncing off the walls– but relaxed. Calm. We all had the beginning of a smile on our face, and it felt as if we just took a collective deep breath.
And as we walked towards the Moose, I remember saying to my step dad, “I wonder how much better the world would be if we all could take a carousel ride before work every morning?”
He laughed. And said, “I bet we’d all be in a lot better mood.”
And then I said the words that have become somewhat of a personal belief/mantra:
“Nothing restores the spirit like a carousel ride.”
* * *
So why am I sharing this story with you now? (Or perhaps again?… I can’t remember.) Well I’ve honestly been thinking a lot lately about the small magic of doing little things to help get us through.
Yes of course it’s important to do the big stuff. Like practicing listening to people, and also telling people how I really feel. Or finding work that I value, that I feel valued doing. Or going to therapy. Or feeding my mind and body with food and movement and love– stuff that serves me.
That’s all PARAMOUNT! Of course. Of course it is.
But that’s all the work of a lifetime. That’s all big stuff. What about the day to day? Or those inevitable pockets of time when I find myself at a low, or in a struggle, or a little lost?
In between the moments of significant growth and systemic change– I don’t know about you, but I can get caught up in the drudgery of the day to day. The small hurts and transgressions. The elliptical nature of depression. The varying points of pain like FOMO or feeling listless.
If left unchecked, these small hurts can turn into big ones. And let’s be real here– I think most of us are dealing with big hurts already. Like a strained family relationship, or death, or worry, or feelings of inadequacy.
IT CAN BE TOO MUCH. Too much to think about, too much to “work on”. Too much to carry.
So what do I do?
Well, I don’t have an answer for that. But I do have an idea…
What about MORALE?
What if I spent a little time each day doing something for myself or someone else that helped with morale?
Cause let’s be honest. I don’t think we can fix each other. We can only hold space, and offer support when we can. But morale is not about fixing anything. It’s about the confidence and enthusiasm of a person or people.
It’s an attitude check. Impossible tasks can seem doable if I have the mindset of hope instead of dread. The slights that I suffer can be worn better, if I know that I am also loved. The monotony of my daily life can be broken up by a kind word or gesture.
All of this can boost morale so I can keep on fighting the good fight!
Think about it… Companies have been doing it for years. Like ice cream treats after a hard budget meeting. There is no simple answer for the hard questions. But it all becomes just a little bit easier to swallow if there are treats. You get it.
And legit? If all anyone was ever offering was treats when you are actual crisis? That can be very frustrating. It can feel like a bandaid on a bullet hole. When the real BIG STUFF happens, I think it’s important to address it as it comes. Meet people where they are at.
But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about all the stuff in between the big stuff. The small magic of doing something little.
And that little gesture can domino into something great.
I’m talking about the soldier that decides to start singing in the trenches, to distract from the terror of war. To lift the spirit, and remind the fellow soldiers of their humanity. To soothe.
Or the coach at Solcana who tells me my form is “Lookin’ good!” just when I feel like giving up and quitting.
I’m talking about the card that you get in the actual mail, that was sent only because a friend wanted you to know they were thinking about you.
Or the lady on the street that complimented the brooch on my jacket, which put a smile on my face for the first time that day. And that smile helped me do a better comedy show. And that comedy show helped someone laugh for the first time in far too long.
And that laughter was a pressure release. It reminded them of their strength. Their humanity. And that there is a reason to keep going.
Morale can’t fix anything. But it can make the journey easier.
* * *
This weekend I surprised (maybe kidnapped?) a few friends and took them to the Lark Toy Company in Kellogg MN. If you like toys and having a good time, I cannot recommend it enough.
And if you don’t know, they have one of the most exquisite carousels I’ve ever seen in real life. Hand carved out of basswood, and about as whimsical as it gets.
I don’t really know why I decided to drive us almost 4 hours on a Sunday afternoon to and from Kellogg MN—just to ride a carousel for 5 minutes–but I felt in my bones that we needed it.
Because I believe—SAY IT WITH ME NOW– “Nothing restores the spirit like a carousel ride.”
We had a nice lunch. We shook it up and got the hell outta dodge for a minute. .
We laughed a lot, and afterwards took a deep breath. Morale was officially boosted. Giving us each a bit of energy to keep on keepin’ on.
Nothing was fixed, because it can’t fix anything…it’s only a ride on a carousel.
But when we got home that night, I was thankful for the small magic of that little trip.