We saw Twentieth Century Women at the local theater tonight and somewhere during the film the question was asked, “What is the biggest thing that’s ever happened to you?” And it got me to thinking. The biggest thing is always relative to the last biggest thing, isn’t it? When I got married at sixteen that was huge. Until I had a baby at eighteen and creating a human being became the biggest thing. But then her dad and I divorced and raising a child on my own when I was barely more than a child myself, well, you can imagine how big that felt. The next time I got married it wasn’t as big a thing because I’d done it before. Same for the next two babies and the second divorce. But getting my real estate license was big. As was the day I left real estate to open my first massage practice.
If you asked me the biggest thing in my life when I was thirty one I would have told you it was watching my mother take her last breath. Moving to California at thirty-seven soon eclipsed that passage. Not bigger, but different in size and scope for sure. Fast forward thirteen years when I donated a kidney to a complete stranger. Now that was a big thing, bigger than me, bigger than I ever expected in terms of how it affected my life in so many beautiful ways. Still does. And although I was overwhelmed by the impact of donating a kidney, taking part in a documentary and then giving birth to the memoir that followed my donation journey consumed my life in a big way for several very exciting and busy years.
Writing the memoir gave me the confidence to finish a novel and then I signed with an agent and I suddenly felt like a BFD. I had an agent! An even bigger deal when she sold the book to a publisher. "This I Know" will be released next spring. Will this novel be the biggest big thing? Maybe. Maybe it will be the book after that, the one already taking up most of the space in my head as I clickety-clack away on my keyboard. Or maybe, the writing itself is the big thing, eh?
Between my childhood wedding and selling my book, there were lots of smaller things, although many left a big impression. Things like seeing my youngest go off to college, moving to the ocean, finding and losing love (and finding it anew). I won’t marry again but I’ll probably write more books. I’ll undoubtedly lose more dear friends to cancer. My fifteen year-old dog will die. My kid’s kids will have kids. And so on and so on but frankly, I think my biggest thing will have already passed by that time. Maybe when I’m seventy or eighty I’ll be able to tell you which one of those was the biggest. Or maybe the biggest thing will be my death, when I finally find out if there is anything after this. Now that would be huge, given my agnosticism.
The thing is I think we’re too focused on the big things. It’s those little things I most remember. The vibration of clunky roller skates under my feet on a bumpy sidewalk. The smell of sheets breeze-dried on my mother’s clothesline. The feel of knotted muscles under my hands as I kneaded them into submission. Baby toes. Carrot cake. My lover’s breath on the back of my neck. The scent of books and the sound of a page turned. Dirt crunching beneath my boots. A fan on a hot summer day. Movie popcorn. All of it.
So tell me, what is the biggest thing that's ever happened to you? What is your smallest biggest thing? The next biggest thing?