Size matters. Whether it’s with actions or appearances, we are told that our purpose in life is to “do big things.” The fall of my junior year was no exception: it was a fast-paced semester of extremes.
In addition to a rigorous course load, I was faced with stressful news and decisions. I was diagnosed with a brain pineal gland cyst and my mother with uterine cancer. I disaffiliated from my sorority and stepped down as president of WakeRadio. Additionally, I was preparing to lead a service trip to Kolkata, India, the upcoming winter with Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity organization.
Knocked off balance by this whirlwind series of events, I was determined to find clarity through this leadership role. All the while, I asked myself, “What matters?”
In the blink of an eye, I was getting six vaccinations. Then, I was exiting the plane, inhaling the scents, sights, and sounds that ignited my senses. Taxis and tut-tuts zipped around, honking ceaselessly. Market salesmen tempted us with silken saris and succulent street food while beggars prodded our arms, gesturing to their hungry mouths. This was home for the next two weeks.
Service started at 7 a.m. in a home for the elderly, sick, and dying. I first carried buckets of sopping wet laundry to the rooftop to hang them to dry. Afterwards, the focus shifted to taking care of the women. I noticed the other volunteers rapidly slathering lotion on their limbs in an assembly line fashion. Instead, I took extra time to sit with the women, gently massaging their chapped hands, and offering to paint their nails.
As the days passed, I noticed one woman in particular who would always summon me to come care for her. While I painted her nails, she would patiently rotate her hand to ensure I coated every crevice. Though she spoke no English, she would look at me with the warmest gaze, her deep brown eyes brimming with satisfaction and joy.
It struck me that something as simple as attention to detail was so meaningful to her. It made me recognize that every effort counts, no matter how small. In fact, what matters are the small things because, as Mother Teresa eloquently said, “It is in them that your strength lies.”
I found my strength in Kolkata and have striven to find it daily through the simplest of actions since my return. College is a time of immediacy in which doing the most as fast as possible is emblematic of supposed perfection. This often distracts us from pausing to revel in our surroundings and life’s simplest endeavors.
Whether it is taking a few spare moments to meditate in savasana, indulge in the delicacy of a flavorful conversation, or hold a door open for someone and ask them how they’re doing, I’ve realized that simple gestures go a long way. Size matters, but it is the smallest efforts that are the most spectacular. All it takes is mindfulness.