This article draft was produced by me around 2008. It was later adapted for a magazine.
The Importance of the Really Unimportant
“I am no longer certain what is more important than the unimportant”Wislawa Symborska.
We all have stories about the day we met our partners for example. I now sit at a typewriter the other side of the world from my country of birth, because of a decision to attend a dance. The bar was busy. Somehow an orderly queue had formed, I found myself standing behind the man who two years later became my husband.
Every day each of us makes hundreds of decisions (often at a subconscious level.) Many of our choices involve assessing our priorities. Apparently trivial dilemmas can have far-reaching consequences.
I was hearing the children in my son’s class read yesterday. George was disinterested and struggling. Reading to me was quite clearly not his favourite activity. We hit the word anthropology in a book which was otherwise designed for 8-year-olds. I muttered something hastily about it being something to do with animals. (Well with my son everything has something to do with animals). Yet I found myself saying,” Let’s look it up”.
We went through three class dictionaries with no success. Just as I was setting it to him for a homework assignment, the class teacher appeared with a “grown-up dictionary”. Now this little boy, who had been battling to read, transformed instantly into a word-hungry “dictionary-ophile”. He found the word very quickly with only minimum guidance. For the first time in the two years I have known him, he looked me right in the eyes and smiled. I was left wondering what if I had decided the word was insignificant, if I had stuck to just making sure this child got his reading practice?
My grandmother used to say,” Look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves.”
I loved my grandmother dearly, but I never really believed her. I think I was on twenty pence pocket money at the time and was relishing the idea of crumpling a five pound note in my hand. I recalled my grandmother’s wise words, when I became the harassed mother of two small and active children.
Surviving the day was with the house and my nerves intact, was often a struggle. I was saved only by a dear friend, who passed on some very simple tips. For me, one involved writing everything down (I have a very poor short-term memory). I am not naturally organized and am more at home with a backpack than in a house. I soon learned that paying attention to some small, insignificant detail, often released me to enjoy my day.
I remember the morning I dashed out of the house to put washing on the line and heard the door slam shut as my 3-year-old son chortled away. The laughter soon turned to screams, as he realized Mummy really could not get back in. Fortunately my patient friend sent over her teenage son, who was through the window in a jiffy. Needless to say putting the door on the latch, is now almost as instinctive as breathing. Mothers soon learn that paying attention to some very simple things can have a huge impact. Sometimes this determines whether we end the day with a serene smile or a few too many stiff brandies.
However I confess I have not learned these lessons as quickly as I might have liked. Now my stint with really young children is over, (I miss it dreadfully.Huh did I really write that?) Dr Phil has taken over where my kindly friend left off. I heard him recommending to mothers with small children, that they keep their bathrooms tidy- how this helps to set them up for the day. Where were you when I needed you Dr Phil?
As a teenager I was a big fan of ‘Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.’ Long before it was ever on the big screen, I was listening to it on the radio. The people of Golgafrincham decided to trick their unimportant people into leaving the planet. Many people put in strenuous demanding days,doing things which most of us barely notice. (Boy does that seem relevant now.) My (former) husband and I once traveled through China on the Trans -Siberian Railway. We will never forget the smart diminutive men in uniform who appeared to spend their days saluting the train. I ponder the effect if they ever decided to go on strike. What about writers? How long before people would notice?
I think our perspective on the jobs which are really important may have changed in 2020.
Tragically some apparently “unimportant” decisions can have devastating consequences. The lives of dozens of people can be wrecked by one person resolving to go for a quick drink then staggering behind the wheel An effort to look cool with a few “friends” and try a few of those pills could mean a wasted life looking for the next fix.
I am a lousy guitar player and I really only only play“Jamaica Farewell” with any confidence. So I have taught this particular song to class after class. (We won’t even mention the time I tried to accompany Love Me Tender in front of a whole school assembly.) Sadly one little girl from my class died.She was knocked down by a car. Imagine my shock when this very song was played at her funeral. That little girl must have heard hundreds of songs and yet my pathetic rendition of Jamaica farewell had turned out to be her favourite song. I still consider teaching her that song to be one of the most important things I have ever done or will ever do
I have learned to listen for those “unimportant” words my children sometimes mutter as they storm off to their bedroom, feeling thwarted in some way. Sometimes these tell me more than I have learned in an entire day about what is really in their heart.
“I was just trying to help Mummy with the washing.”
In the past we were able to live quite insular lives. What went on in Africa Tibet or Mongolia appeared to have little or no consequence. Gradually the world is waking up to the fact that we can never afford to regard any country or its people as insignificant. Many a devastating conflict, has had its origins in a place people had never heard of before.
Species of flora and fauna disappear from the planet forever, each day. Some may be pivotal species. Whilst most of us do not get particularly excited about krill, we will valiantly defend the blue whale and other species which prey upon them with our last breath. That little plant being bulldozed in the rainforest today, could be the only cure for the disease we contract tomorrow.
I now look at things I have previously ignored and do tasks which I have previously skipped. Last week I took time to go through my (then) husbands photos. I produced a concise pictorial biography of the last fifteen years. Beds went unmade, dishes sat in the sink even my hair went uncombed (Okay so perhaps this is not the first time!) No other gift (not even the ride in the Nascar for his fortieth) has ever impacted him in the same way.
(He threw up after the ride in the Nascar.) We missed watching much of his ride, as my son had run off chasing a blue tongue lizard.)
The Birthday Boy had gazed reminiscently at the image of him standing next to that small boy in Belgium, answering nature’s call, the Eiffel Tower, the Little Mermaid. Later he resisted jibes from work colleagues about his age, saying he was happy at (Insert age) to have achieved so many of his hopes and dreams. Sometimes we need to take time out from all the “important” stuff. And notice the little things. (As you can see this was written a few years ago and later it was adapted into an article.This is my original version.)
Must dash now, I have a bathroom door handle which needs polishing… (I have found myself disinfecting door handles for real in this age of Covid-19.)
The planet Golgafrincham solved the problem of middle managers; it blasted them into space. Golgafrinchan Telephone sanitizers, (Again this perhaps should be changed, since the advent of Covid-19.) Management consultants and Marketing executives were persuaded that the planet was under threat from an enormous mutant star goat. The useless third of their population was then packed in Ark spaceships and sent to an insignificant planet. The planet turned out to be Earth, where the arrival of the Golgafrincham B Ark, rather disrupted an experiment designed to find the question to the ultimate answer”. Quoted from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.
Source: Michael Snow https://www.youtube.com/user/michaelsnow1
Source: Duran Duran https://www.youtube.com/c/DuranDuranhttps://www.you