The older I get, the more I appreciate that it’s the little things that count. I always remember the story about the remarkable poet Emily Dickenson who wrote some of the most beautiful poetry I have ever read. She basically never moved from her home. Saw everything through her front window, yet experienced life to the full. Or Emmanuel Kant, the great German philosopher who never moved outside his hometown, yet influenced the entire western world with his philosophy.
Watering the flowers
A simple task like watering the flowers every day can bring so much joy–not immediately, but over a long period of time. As I wield my watering can or hose I marvel at how the plants grow. When I fertilize them every couple of weeks I imagine how they will bloom a few short days after their feeding. And sure enough, a week or so after their tonic they begin to bloom their heads off. As long as it doesn’t freeze they will continue to enrich my daily life, not just with their blooms, but with the tiny daily ritual of keeping them alive with that commonest of all elements–water.
I have a couple of plants at the front of the house; chrysanthemums with some tall rush-like plants I don’t know the name of. But they are taller then my five-foot-ten-inches, and have fuzzy cat tail heads like bulrushes. Not only do they practically talk to me when I fertilize and water them, they provide constant continuous motion when the wind blows. They remind me of cats’ tails waving to and fro, constantly in motion, creating a sinuous ballet with the slightest breeze.
And the geraniums–I feel like melting when I view their rich colours: brilliant red, succulent pink, blinding white. I have a bright yellow begonia on my deck that has been blazing all summer long, and now that we’re nearly into October is still going strong. I love the odour of geraniums, that crisp, gingery scent that teases your nostrils when you break off a leaf, or cull dead blooms from their mother stems. These are the things that have come to mean the most to me as my life moves ever onwards.
My trusty pen knife
Another simple thing I give thanks for every day is my pen knife. Ironically, it was an industrial give-away I acquired when I began to work with Alcan Canada Products in 1970. It has remained with me ever since. That’s nearly half a century now, and it has never left my pocket. I use it for so many things, it’s like a third hand.
I use it to open letters, carve the skin off a tangerine, fix a ragged fingernail with its everlasting file. It’s a simple five-bladed knife, made by the Swiss knife-maker Victorinox, anodized blue with the Alcan logo on one side. It has two blades, a tiny pair of scissors, a nail file and what the Swiss call a pipe cleaner, which is really a tiny scraper with a screwdriver at the end. It’s small enough to fix the screws on any pair of glasses ever made, and strong enough not to break when it hits a tough one. It has been my constant companion, and it calls up a whole host of memories every time I use it. It has become indispensable.
My change purse
Another item that has become part of my daily life is my change purse. A friend once remarked that he had never seen me without it, and indeed, one has been in my pocket since childhood. My father used to have the same kind of purse, and I remember inheriting his used one when I must have been eight or nine. It’s the best designed purse for a man that I know of.
It has always been made in China, and the one I use today must have come from the same Chinese last at its forebears. It’s a squared oval in shape. Imagine an oval shape with the end being square. It is a fold-over design with a fold-over flap that covers a small pocket as well as the purse itself. Best of all, it is a ridged design so that there is plenty of room for change. When you need to use it, you open the flap, tilt the purse, and the change flows into the flap without going all over the place. The ridge of the purse holds the change in place, and there is room to count it out without spilling.
But its best feature is that it’s flat. It fits in your pocket without showing a huge bulge in your trousers. Because the oval is squared off, it also sits securely in the bottom of your pocket, and even though It may be full of change, it doesn’t weigh you down.
To me, the thing speaks of Chinese ingenuity. It’s a design that uses only thin leather and thread, two basic components, and yet works flawlessly. It needs no zippers, no clasps, no Velcro. There is nothing to poke holes either in your pocket or you. It reminds me of the essence of Chinese philosophy–effortless simplicity in design and use. Isn’t that what “being” is all about?