Part of the heritage of staunch self-sufficient New Englander (or so I have long told myself), is a “can do” attitude. And usually by this I mean, I “can do” it myself. Though I would be the first to say that any large project needs many hands, the smaller quotidian tasks seem too trifling to trouble friends and neighbors.
Translated into hospitality terms this has usually mean that I equate offers of help with offers for “big” help. Moving house. Providing a weekend of accommodation. Large sums of money, (which for us emerging adults has meant anything from 50 dollars to pay a curiously short drinks bill, to spotting half a month’s rent.)
And so, I am often reticent to proffer “Small Help.” I think, “They will ask for help if they need it.” Or “I will wait until I am asked for a specific item to give so that there is no way I can offend.” Or even, “I don’t know what that person is really going through, they look like they have it together.”
But then I am confronted by a couple who can’t (or won’t?) stop giving. In abundance, without reserve, often times to an absurd degree, (I mean 21 sleepers for one little baby? Come on!) But beneath their flowers, heaps of cookies, and offers of baby sitting comes one genuine lesson. Give and give HARD. Despite the fact that necessity requires us to rebuff some of these offers, (no, we can’t store winter clothes for a 2 year old in our small apartment), and others are simply laughable, they are undeterred. They don’t let an opportunity go by without an extension of help, and I am often days in formulating even one attempt to brighten someone else’s existence. My ability to extend hospitality withers, while there’s is so large it needs pruning.
It is all “Small Help”, and I am inspired by it, particularly as I sit and read Wendell Berry’s essay “Think Little.” (full text here.) Berry notes the fads that have come and gone in activism, Civil Rights, Peace Movements, Environmentalism. Each has been fashionable, each has attempted to overthrow injustice. And I too, I want to be BIG and GRAND and SWOOP in and save the world, be Meaningful and Productive. And to a degree I must consider things beyond and beside my own personal troubles. Yet, how I hate this phrase, at the end of the day, I appreciate those chocolate chip cookies. I am left with Small Help, which has turned out to be particularly tasty.