The Little Things Are the Big Things

What we miss when we get caught up in the realm of big ideas, big battles, and big personalities

There are some images that stick with you through the years — not because they’re the kind of thing that would make headlines or attract a large crowd — but because they’re simultaneously both simple and powerful.

This is the story of one such image.

When Is A Sandwich More Than A Sandwich?

A few years ago I was at a sandwich shop for lunch. I wasn’t going to eat there; I was just picking up lunch for myself and a co-worker to eat back at the office. The line for waiting to get your sandwich made happens to be right by where the tables are situated, such that you’re close to those who have already gotten their sandwiches, and are eating them.

I happened to already know what I wanted to get, and so rather than my attention being fixed upon the menu board, I was doing a bit of people watching. I noticed a man sitting alone at a table, with a freshly made sandwich.

He proceeded to unwrap the sandwich, and there was something about the way he was looking at it that made it impossible for me to look away. His manner was so delicate, so reverent. It was as if the sandwich was a 500 year-old painting wrapped in antique parchment paper.

When the man finished unwrapping his sandwich, he stopped and looked at it. It couldn’t have been more than 3 seconds, but the way he looked at it in that 3 seconds — it’s not the kind of look I had seen many times. It was a look simultaneously of gratitude, fulfillment, joyful anticipation, and wonder. He then picked up the sandwich with both hands, grinned ever-so slightly , closed his eyes, and took a bite.

This man was enjoying his sandwich in a way that I had seen very few people enjoy anything. It was truly something to behold.

When It’s a Microcosm of Everything

There was nothing in the mechanics of the situation that was special. There was a man, there was a sandwich. There was a bustling lunchtime rush crowd around us in the sandwich shop. There was the clamor of the thoughts all of the things everyone had to deal with the rest of the day.

But then — for this man — there was a break in all that action. He was notably…elsewhere. It’s hard to explain, but it was noticeable.

This incident persists in my mind because it taught me a lesson that I continue to carry with me. It’s something that I have been unknowingly experiencing from time to time throughout my life — and I suspect that you might have as well. The little things are the big things.

People may regard a sandwich as something little, inconsequential, not worth mentioning or really paying attention to. But a sandwich is only a sandwich if you allow it to be.

A sandwich — or more accurately, your relationship with a given sandwich — is a microcosm of all the relationships in the world. A sandwich represents the coordination of so much work between so many people, spanning so many miles. It represents something so sacred that we tend to overlook: cooperation and value creation.

When someone makes a sandwich for us, and we hunger for it, that whole transaction is sacred. It seems little, but it is actually immense. And it is when we forget this that we lose our connection to what binds us together.

This is About More Than Sandwiches

We are bombarded these days by so many seemingly big things, that it can be hard to bring ourselves back to the little things — like a sandwich. But we must do it; it’s our only hope of cultivating that sense of reverence for our own lives.

This piece of writing is about more than sandwiches, it’s about the fact that the things we think are little and inconsequential are actually huge. That man who looked at his sandwich for those 3 seconds, and caught my eye — in that moment, he understood this simple truth. For those 3 seconds, he was connecting with something over and above a mere meal. He was feeding more than his physical body. He was feeding his spirit — whatever you take that word to mean.

We are bombarded these days by so many seemingly big things, that it can be hard to bring ourselves back to the little things — like a sandwich. But we must do it; it’s our only hope of cultivating that sense of reverence for our own lives.

Continuing to focus on the big battles, big ideas, and big personalities on social media and in the news — that pulls us away from the sandwiches and cups of coffee that make up our lives. When we’re pulled away from those things, we’re pulled away from the building blocks of the simple and enjoyable parts of a life well-lived.

Choose To Stay Small

Every day, we’re given an implicit ultimatum: we can either connect deeply with what is in front of us or we can connect in a shallow and fleeting way with what is swirling out there. The choice should be clear, but we continually make the wrong one, and when we do, we suffer for it.

It’s not easy to connect deeply with the small things of our daily lives, like that man in my story did with his sandwich. But like everything, it comes with practice.

Luckily, the practice can be really, really rewarding. The next time you’re about to eat a sandwich, or enjoy a cup of coffee or tea, make it the focus. Turn off the computer, the television, or the audio. Take a loving look at the thing in front of you. Smell it, feel it, and imagine what it’s going to taste like. Then enjoy it.

By the way, this same practice can be done with people. When you’re about to have a conversation with someone, you can treat them like that sandwich or cup of coffee. You can stop, and drink in what they’re saying. You can listen to their voice — its tone, and its cadence.

More than anything, we need to remember that the biggest things are ultimately small. Those things that we can so easily overlook contain the profound and the important.

Written by

Author of “The Wabi-Sabi Way” and “Be, Think, Do”. Subscribe to my newsletter “Woolgathering”: .

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