Tiny Steps

He crouches hopefully on our back steps. He is waiting for his supper and I, as his regular waitress, do not disappoint. I bend to pet his wiry black whiskers, touch the tip of his tiny pale nose. He visits morning and night, without fail, has his breakfast and supper here, leans against my leg for a bit of a petting, then takes off for parts unknown (unknown to me, at least… he is GPS-hardwired for these streets, these houses, these neighbors who don’t know each other by name, but most of whom do, in fact, know him by name. Boots, so named because of his small, sturdy white paws.) I’d miss him, if he ever stayed away, because he is a sort of symbol for me now, a real live in-the-flesh product of my own personal transformation.

He keeps me grounded in a world increasingly gone awry. Filling his food bowl twice a day, taking the time to pet his coarse fur, are symbolic of my strong, new choice to take one action, no matter how small or ordinary, every single day, to effect positive, lasting change in my life and in my world. One of my favorite authors calls it ‘micro movements.’

I call it baby steps.

I’ve spent the huge bulk of my 55 years on this earth in circles of my own frustrated making. I’ve taken the ordinary act of wishful thinking and turned it into an art form all its own. I am a master procrastinator, a skillful veteran of giving my creative ideas their marching orders long before they have a chance to make it through the boot camp of my endless analyzing of each and every pro and con.

From as early as I can remember, I’ve wanted to make a certain difference. The trouble is, I’ve spent at least four decades planning out that difference, with appalling minute evidence of any actual activity to the same.

As a skinny fourth-grader, I pledged to God and to my mother that I would grow up to be a missionary, carrying my faith to places where no steeples pierced skies, where children did not find themselves safely ensconced in Sunday School or Vacation Bible School or any of the familiar church activities with which I comforted myself when I felt too alone or felt myself slipping into the all-too-frequent bouts of quiet, deep, dank depression that I neither understood nor could share with anyone else.

As an adult, I created intricate life maps for how to help the homeless, how to reach out to orphans, how to bring abandoned dogs and cats into safe, warm houses and families with as much love as catnip.

All planning, no doing.

Until I began to see around me that there were people who were much less skilled, with far fewer resources, who were doing things, not just thinking about doing things.

There is a little boy in the Philippines who made an animal shelter out of his garage. He’s about eight-years-old and has rallied hundreds of adults to donate pet food, vet care, and supplies for his little shelter. A nine-year-old girl in the United States builds small mobile homes for the homeless she calls ‘friends,’ small clean structures complete with tiny windows, food, and hygiene supplies. A charismatic young minister in the heart of downtown Atlanta spends his days and some nights in a women’s shelter, bringing in groups of people to ‘be with’ the homeless there, rather than to ‘do for’ them. He had a vision and he found a way to draw hundreds of people in to reach out by sitting with the shelter residents, eating with them, playing Bingo with the women, just hanging out rather than stationed apart, doling out spaghetti during food call.

So what do I do? I’ll tell you what I didn’t do. I didn’t go back to school and get a new degree. I didn’t move to a Third World country to work in an orphanage. I hunkered down and made the choice to do what I can, where I can, how I can, no matter how simple. To do something for someone else every single day.

I feed my neighbor’s hungry cat.
I drive an elderly neighbor to the grocery store and help her get the bags back into the house.
I listen, with intention, to my teenage daughter’s angst about her hair, her skin, her body, her clothes, and she gets that I care.
I practice my Spanish so I can help a Colombian woman I know, who needs to feel wanted or needed as much as I need the same things.

The thing is, I show up.
And that is what will make the difference.