Monday, June 21, 2010

The Little Picture

I am big. It's the pictures that got small.
Norma Desmond, Sunset Boulevard

Norma Desmond missed the point when she railed against the pictures getting small. Sometimes it's the small picture, the little picture, that we need to keep our eyes on.

A couple of weeks ago, I was talking with my friend Tracy, whose youngest son had missed most of the last three weeks of school due to an undiagnosed sinus infection. She was talking about the travails of juggling work schedules (both her and her husband's) to make sure someone was home with their boy; she expressed frustration at the missed diagnoses that kept him sidelined longer than he would have been had he been treated for a sinus infection right off the bat.

Tracy then said she shouldn't be complaining. A little boy had died over the weekend from injuries from a car accident a few weeks earlier. Her son had only missed school.

"I keep telling myself to look at the big picture," Tracy said, with the exhaustion of her own vigil etched on her face. "You know what I mean, April? In the big picture, what we have gone through with our son is nothing."

I thought a moment, then said, "I know, Tracy, but don't forget we live life in the little picture."

We do. No matter what the Big Picture is, and I am not underestimating the Big Picture in the least, we all live in the little picture.

Death, the Great Recession, the BP Oil Spill - those are all Big Picture events. Our lives may be brutally or even permanently impacted by the Big Picture at times, but we still live in the little picture. We are sad about the child killed in the auto accident, but we agonize over our child's fever. We sigh for those millions struggling to find work, but we lose sleep over the bills sitting on our kitchen table.

We live life in the little picture - our little picture.

E. B. White captured the little picture in a 1939 essay, "Camp Meeting," in which he wrote about a meeting during the years that Dr. Townsend was busy spreading the gospel of his plan to beat the Great Depression. After writing about Townsend's message, White then noted the scene after Townsend departed and the people who had traveled to hear him went on with their day:

And from a score of rusty stovepipes in the woods rose the first thick coils of smoke from the kitchen fires, where America's housewives, never quite giving up, were laboriously preparing one more meal in the long, long procession. The vision of milk and honey, it comes and goes. But the odor of cooking goes on forever.

E. B. White was a master at the little picture, which is why his essays and his children's novels (yes, that E. B. White) continue to resonate with us decades later. He rarely lost sight that it is the little picture in which we live, no matter how Big the Big Picture may be.

We always have a lot on our plates in this household - and summer is no exception. From the garden to the 4th of July concerts, it is always something. Throw in the trip to North Carolina and the upcoming wedding in Montana, and this summer promises to be a doozy. Sometimes it feels as if our personal little picture (albeit with big events in it) is blown up on a drive-in movie screen. Sometimes the opening credits start spooling just as I am falling off to sleep.

Now Playing! Bigger than Life!

That's usually when I remind myself that whatever is bothering me is not the Big Picture. I tell myself it is time to unplug the film projector, turn off the popcorn machine, and go to sleep.

We all live life in the little picture. There are always bills to pay, a sore throat to soothe, two meetings to jam up against three other things to do. There is always the odor of cooking in the little picture.

Sometimes there is even the smell of popcorn.

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