What’s Thanksgiving without family? I’m in a funk about the holidays, feeling stranded in the middle of the country while relatives I’m desperate to see are isolated in their homes on either coast. Too much time has passed without family visits, the older generation is swiftly aging, and the sad tolls of the pandemic mean we need our loved ones now more than ever. Covid restrictions mean I can’t even gather our local “family of choice” around the table. To add insult to injury, one of my tiny family of three is vegetarian and another gluten- and dairy-free. So much for tradition.
I need an attitude adjustment.
Recently I found these words in my writing notebook: “Aim small. Dig Deep.” I’d written them as an admonition to myself around publishing. My tendency once I finish a project is to drift into visions of, if not fame and fortune, at least a significant impact with a glimmer of recognition. I must have been reading Seth Godin, marketing guru, who advises people with a product to sell to ask the question, “How few people could find this indispensable and still make it worth doing?” When I take his question seriously, my answer is one: me. Extending the question to marketing my work, my answer is similarly small. If my words move a handful of readers, then yes, they’re worth the effort of launching them.
I’m privileged to answer this way because I’m not dependent on writing for income and can determine “worth” with intangible measures. Writing is indispensable to me when it brings me joy, connects me to my source, and orients my heart toward what’s life-giving. Sharing what I write is worthwhile when my words move a reader, however slightly—when they offer hope or delight or insight, when challenge or nudge, when the reader benefits, even incrementally, for having read them. For me, the measure of worth isn’t numbers so much as connection to the source of life.
This is an odd thing to apply to the seats around our Thanksgiving table, I know, but I do think the “aim small, dig deep” principle is appropriate here. Sure I want the thrill of traveling, the relief of a break from Covid monotony, the fun of loved ones’ company, and the delicious feast, but at the core what I long for is the exchange of love that comes so easily when we’re together—the movement. I need to keep my focus on that exchange, which takes effort from a distance but is still possible. Rather than being bitter about my circumstances, can I delight in our threesome, cherish our warm home, give thanks for our health, and make time for lingering phone calls with family? Rather than taint our little celebration with misgivings, isn’t it better to set my sights so low that I’m thoroughly grateful?
The practice of aiming small isn’t selling ourselves short; it’s accepting what is. The practice of digging deep asks us not to fall back on the way we’ve always done things but instead bring intention to what we most value. I’m almost there, but first I need a good cry.
–Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew