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Mother Teresa once said, “We cannot all do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” This quote finds its echo in Emily Dickinson’s poem “Not in Vain” (one of my favorites): “If I can stop one heart from breaking,/ I shall not live in vain:/ If I can ease one life the aching,/ or cool one pain,/ or help one fainting robin/ unto his next again,/ I shall not live in vain.”

We may not be able to do great things now. But we can do small things that require great love: wearing a facemask, not for ourselves, but for others. Giving up small pleasures like drinking in bars or going to concerts, not because we are afraid, but because we are concerned about those who are vulnerable. Small things. Big results.

Let us take a turn at small things:
the flat of a hand signing acceptance;
the sigh of small voices that soften,
somehow, a bellow; the breath
that says, simply, “yes.”
To return a robin to the nest
is greater than, and will go further,
than any act of anger. Our times require
saints, not soldiers, and sainthood is accrued
one small gesture at a time.

When I first started blogging, I wanted to augment my work here with a blog devoted to Emily Dickinson, a deeply spiritual poet with whom I find a friendly resonance. I wanted to call my site “An Admiring Blog,” a take on a line from Dickinson’s poem “I’m Nobody, Who Are You?” But the name was already taken. Still, that hasn’t stopped me from musing on her work. I wrote this poem with Dickinson’s “The Mighty Merchant” in mind:

Choose your cross.
Pick the size and shape.
Mull over wood grains.
Perhaps I can help?
Peter, you know, chose to go feet-first.
Some saints I know like their crosses
perfectly square.
But don’t let me sway you.
Your choice should be tempered
by the size of your soul.
There are those who carry mahogany
as lightly as balsa,
others with twined sticks, twigs really,
who bend under the weight
like make-believe martyrs.

Let me tell you a secret:
You will always choose the cross you know.
Its contours are familiar, the upright beam
settles easily between your shoulder blades.
Oh, you claim to hate it,
but over the years you’ve learned
to heft its weight. A new cross
can be wily — green wood
can bend and wriggle like a viper
you only thought you understood.

All crosses are vouchsafed,
guaranteed to last a lifetime.
Don’t fret, dear Consumer!
You’ll scarcely notice:
A carpenter I know
will take an end.
He has experience with these things.
You have only to ask.

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