by Olivia Shenken
Attend to the minor miracles. They will not call out to be seen.
Like listening to the shuffle of fabric on fabric, texture on skin, as I fold and hang my clothes. I’m de-entropising my room, shrinking piles of clothes like levelled hills, grass and earth carefully shifted by attentive implements, sensitive hands sifting through pockets. Like touching the woollen softness of scarves and jumpers. The clink, slide and rattle of rearranging clothes-hangers. This gentle language of domesticity smooths the edges of my internal spaces. The whispers of familiar objects are warm caresses.
Like clouds. Just clouds. Pods of sky-whales, scudding across the high depths, lit like pearls on the blue dome of air. Pink and gold like summer fruit, or the soft skin of graceful women in old paintings.
Out on a walk, a schoolboy carrying a guitar-case pauses to pet my dog, ruffles his fur. He smiles and says thank you. Why not smile, too?
Sitting on the couch, my dog moves closer to me, to rest beside me without any beckoning. His shorn fur is like clear music on my skin. He takes little breaths entirely proportionate to his size.
I try to focus on just one sense, or two. Close my eyes and listen to cars going by, displacing air, overlaid with the whistle of wind in the trees, the shaking of branches. Horns in the distance, helicopters, birdsong. My own breathing.
My hair drip-dries, and I watch the tiny globes of water as they slide down individual strands, and fall with a pat. They leave behind a small darkened spot, a shadow, where they fall and are absorbed into the ground.
The tree outside my window fades red to green, from top to bottom, like an apple. The very tips of the highest twigs have just begun to lose their leaves, bared like unpainted fingernails. Autumn is a time when stopping to look and consider pays off tenfold. Everything changes so slightly from sunrise to sunrise.
The prince of small pleasures is a hot mug of tea. It feeds all the senses. Warmth on skin, steam that fogs up glasses. It has a steadying taste; its scent is calming. The process of preparing tea is accompanied by a minute orchestra of sound. The bubbling kettle, the click as it boils, the pour of water. If the mug is too hot to really hold at first, I skim a finger around the edge to hear the music of the glazed rim. When you can cradle your hands around it, the heat fires the clay of your skin. Maybe it feels so good because it reminds you that you are, after all, only porcelain.
My niece, three years old, compliments my nail-polish. I did that myself. I ask her if she likes my haircut, and she says no. Sometimes she runs to hug me when she sees me, overflowing my heart like an old washing machine set a little too high.
Even when I’m with others, I sometimes feel alone in crowds. But watch – I look at the strangers around me and find something to quiet my thoughts: people looking out for each other, wearing nice clothes, having fun. That doesn’t always work, though. People have motives you can’t predict.
The inanimate world is quieter in its intentions. Better sometimes to situate yourself not as a person among people, but as a person within an environment, just taking it in.
It’s tempting to envelop yourself in fantasies, escape this world by creating new ones. And that can help, too. Let it help, if it does. But be wary, because habits are hard to break. If you fantasise every day about something or someone, and then one day that thing isn’t there anymore – if one day, that person disappears… like I said, habits can be hard to break. You need fantasy a little less if you can love the now, just a little bit.
Sometimes the small wonders are hard to find. Impossible. The whole world of senses is blinded, and all the input of touch and taste, of scent and sight and sound, is blunted, cut off, poisoned and acrid. I know that. I won’t lie to you about it. The weight in your chest, the ringing in your ears, the shortness of breath. Fearing yourself, hating yourself, drowning in yourself. For some of you, your suffering may be rooted in your body, which you cannot escape. There’s no key to unlock that house of bones. Being present in it, tapping into what it senses and how it feels, might be too painful. And that’s okay.
But, if you can, when you can – when there’s a small pocket of energy to spare – try to love the small things. Just a little bit at a time. If one time turns into more, it will slowly become a habit. Keep going. A small habit like that may be part of what keeps you going someday. And maybe that will ease your course out of the pit – perhaps not a ladder, but a few shallow handholds. Or even just an incline that’s slightly less steep.
Allowing yourself to love the world around you is a kind of self-love. If you can love the light from a desk-lamp, the sound of birdsong, your own breathing – then why not love your reflection? If autumn leaves and twilight skies can pen a love letter to you, then why not love yourself? If you can forgive the pouring rain, breathe in the scent it leaves on the grass, let it sing you a lullaby as it dances to the earth from the clouds – then why not forgive yourself?
If that’s true – the more you love the small things, the more you love yourself – why not try? It’s hard at first. I can’t tell you what to do, what to love, what will work for you. I’m only a case study for myself, and who knows where I’ll end up, or even where I am now. But I don’t think this advice will hurt you. It can’t hurt to see the little wonders – they are too small to cause much offence.
But if you let them, they can lend you some small warmth, some comfort, a moment of partial respite – like a warm cup of tea cradled in your hands.
This piece was published in print as part of Lot’s Wife Edition 4.