Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Bad Timing, I Believe

For a few years I have been enamored with NPR's This I Believe segment. People, some famous and some not, read essays they have written about what they believe. The word limit is typically 500, so you can't blabber on about this and that but are encouraged to stay focused on one thing.

I have often thought about submitting my own essay but just never got around to it—until this past weekend. I spent a little time thinking about one single thing I believe in and wrote and polished an essay within the word limit, and I sent it to NPR using the online form they provide.

Then, I heard Amy Tan's essay for the segment about how she believes in ghosts (you can listen to it here). Now, I have learned her essay was the final installment in This I Believe, and after four years, NPR will not be airing any more. I could just break something, maybe my writing pencil, for dillydallying so long that I missed my chance. It may have been a slim chance that my essay would have been aired anyway, but you never know.

So, since NPR listeners will never hear my piece, I'll post it here. Tell me if you want an audio version—maybe we can start a blog series on our own.


I believe in thinking small.

I have attended meetings where instructions to think big was on the agenda-have big dreams, come up with big ideas, create something big. I was never productive in those meetings because I think we have more impact when we have small dreams, come up with small ideas, and create small things. It's the small things that are the most important, I believe.

In my small town, regulars gather at the coffee shop and talk about things, small things usually. A lot of them have Facebook accounts where they send notes back and forth, post pictures or take quizzes like "Which Greek god are you most like." But when they sign off from that big network, it's their usual table at the coffee shop they return to. It's the simple face-to-face conversation they long for-sharing space with other people, making eye contact, listening to voice inflections and talking about the things they care about.

They talk about what they've read in the local newspaper, the one that is still written and printed by neighbors. Did you read about the landfill on the front page today, and did you see the story about the guy who plays Taps for Memorial Day every year, how he used to play for all the big bands before World War II? "I know that guy," someone will say. "He's a good man. Got a heart of gold."

Then they'll talk about how summer is just around the corner and how the new farmers' market is about to open at the fair grounds. They'll all be able to go there on a warm Wednesday evening and buy a sack of tomatoes or a pint or two of strawberries grown by local farmers, the kind who still plant and harvest the way their fathers did on their carefully tended property.

The people in my small town like their high school. It's got one heck of a marching band, and the football team makes them proud. So, they talk about those things, which may seem insignificant on the surface, but they know it's the tradition that matters and the lessons the kids learn that really mean something.

All of these people sitting in the coffee shop, having a second cup or biting into a sandwich, know all about the bigger world going on around them where the leaders they voted for-or the ones they didn't-debate diplomacy versus war or government intervention versus market correction. They know about global trade and climate change and immigration and how sometimes it feels like the whole planet is walking a tight rope.

But when each of them wakes up in the morning and starts the day with the first task at hand, it's what's small, what's right in front of them and within their control that gets the most attention. All those small things matter, and at the end of the day, it's those small things that leave a lasting impression, I believe.


Shazza said...

That was fabulous Robyn and so very true!

Thank you so much for posting it!

Rich said...

Great piece, Robyn - glad you shared with your loyal readers here.
Incidently -
A drum corps called the Cadets from Allentown PA did their entire show in 2007 based on the "This I Believe" radio show and concept.

Mark said...

That's a wonderful piece. I sometimes feel as if all my writing is one long and winding trek in search of that core of what I believe.

Kyle @ Sift said...

Although This I Believe is no longer broadcasting essays they are still accepting them for print publication. Did you write the essay so it would be heard or did you write the essay because it was important you say these things? I enjoyed your essay and believe I live for the small things.

Cheri @ Blog This Mom! said...

I love this. Going with your think small theme, you've well served your readers here with a beautiful message.

Shan said...

Ahh. I'm sorry you missed the deadline Robyn, you wrote such a good one. I like the idea of doing small things that lead to lasting impressions. I'm not great at thinking on a large scale so perhaps I should just take the day to day more seriously.

I don't get NPR clearly here so I have to download the different things I want to hear like 'This American Life'. Thanks for the link to Amy Tan's essay. I did catch the first one by Isabel Allende somehow. I like her as a writer so it was interesting to hear her reading a more personal essay.

Maybe you can still send it in or put it in your local paper. :)

Scout said...

Shazza, you're welcome. I'm glad you liked it.

Rich, how do you do a whole show about talking?

Mark, I think that's true of all of us.

Kyle, honestly, I would love to have my stuff heard by a larger audience. I wrote this specifically for the radio segment. To be included in a print version would be great, though.

Cheri, my audience here is kind of small, but I like that. I couldn't keep up with everyone if I had a dozens and dozens of blogs to check every week.

Shan, I get NPR clearly, but I usually just listen when I'm in the car. It's a shame. I should take advantage of it more.

lynn said...

Do you live in Tewkesbury then? ;) he he sounds exactly like my town Robyn! That's pretty much what goes on here.

I loved it, I felt at home right away and you made a cosy atmosphere for your excellent essay.