The small stuff can be so big

Published 10:24 pm Tuesday, August 20, 2013

By Ruffin Alphin

The overbooked schedule had done its work.

Bone-deep weariness had awakened me to the need for some time off — an extended recess from work. My creative energy had evaporated, and the days felt like weights.


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I sheepishly asked for several weeks off in succession. When it was granted, I could not rid myself of a biting sense of guilt. Was it right for me to be gone so long? What about the other workers?

That’s why the small envelope was potent. Inside, the words were warm and inviting. Then near the bottom they read, “I’m glad you’re taking some time away, because you need it.”

That one sentence was life giving, particularly because it was written by the hand of my physician, an unusual physician who writes letters to patients.

It was a small gesture, yet it delivered such a large liberty. I felt free to go now…

The “tea-kettle, tea-kettle” sound was blaring and boisterous in the early morning stillness. It rang throughout the dawning neighborhood. No doubt, such volume was produced by some large-feathered creature, but my binoculars revealed a surprising counterclaim.

The little critter perched high up on the wire was lifting its head in a performance as if he was an Italian opera singer belting out a famous aria.

The Carolina wren is a small chunky bird with hardly any neck and a short little tail, but its song is brilliant and booming. Its size is no deterrent, and we are the recipients…

For some time our relationship had not been what it used to be. A kind of civil coolness had set in. Things had happened, comments had been made, misunderstandings had resulted. The way forward was unclear to me. I wanted it to be different. But I did not know exactly how to do it.

From time to time we would both make attempts to be warmer, to be more thoughtful, to be affirming, yet usually it was only what was necessary to keep the tasks functioning. Most of the time, it felt forced.

We continued on, then one day she walked into my office, put her hand on my shoulder and simply said, “Are you all right? You look like something is bothering you.”

I cannot remember what was troubling me, but at the moment it had nothing to do with her. What I do remember is her words. They were unnecessary. There was no compulsion involved — no pressure, no coercion for her to show such care. She just did.

Just a few words but they carried great weight, like a bridge to a town on the other side…

Small stuff. It is so big.

Rex Alphin is taking the month of August off. His brother, Ruffin, the senior pastor at Westminster Reformed Presbyterian Church, will be writing in his place. Email Ruffin Alphin at