By Cathy Hird
One of the most quoted metaphors Jesus used is based on the mustard seed. In one, he stated that the presence and dream of God was like a mustard seed, a tiny seed that grows into a plant that can shelter the nests of birds.

Black mustard can grow to the height of three meters, and it is an annual plant so it achieves this in one season. It is a plant with energy. It is also tenacious. We have a ten acre field which with a lot of wild mustard seed waiting in the ground. Each time it is cultivated, thousands of mustard plants sprout, enough to outdo whatever we intend to grow. Given half a chance, it takes over.

So the metaphor suggests that something big can grow from a small beginning. I'll get to the positive, but I think we first notice the power of a small thing in the way something little can get under our skin.

A mosquito buzzing in our bedroom can keep us awake. When I get bit by a tiny black fly, the mark it leaves is bigger than the creature.

Small things people do can become the only thing we notice about them. In a quiet movie theatre, someone keeps rattling a package of candy, and the mood in broken. A cellphone pings, and everybody turns to look.

I wonder what actions get under your skin? The little thing I find hardest is loud, open mouthed gum chewing. When someone does that, I have to work hard to block out the sound, ignore the mouth movement, and focus on their words.

But I know that a person who struggles with dry mouth or with chronic bad breath chooses to chew gum for a very good reason. The problem with the action is mine not theirs.

These days, some folks will choose to pierce their eyebrow, their lip, their tongue. Some people have a hard time looking past the piece of metal. But all of us put together our appearance with a collection of small things carefully chose. We change our look depending on whether we are going to work, to a ball game, out for the evening. Other people notice what we wear and make a quick assessment of whether or not they think we fit in. These small choices are a short cut to establish connection. Little things influence our sense of community.

When something a person wears seems out of place, can we look past it to see the person? If we don't, we limit our sense of community and push a person aside. If we can, we expand our connections. If we reach out to someone who looks different, who expects us to ignore them, we redefine community in a broader way.

We often talk about the difference that a smile can make, or a courteous greeting. When a sales person is cheerful and warm at the check out, we feel more relaxed ourselves.

It must feel awful to the cashier who offers a cheerful "How are you today" when a customer just grunts. Even if we are harried and hassled and having a really bad day, it is not the fault of the person packing our groceries for us. It must make the sales associate uneasy when the first words from the shopper are, "This place is such a disaster." Even it is true that the shelf where the item they need was empty, muttering nasty words to the cashier does not change the situation.

At the checkout the other day, two brothers of about six and seven were sitting on a bench pushing each other from side to side, and laughing. They did this again and again. Their parents watched to make sure they were being gentle, but did not stop their fun. The cashier's smile got broader and broader. Everyone relaxed as these two boys enjoyed each other.

There are big problems in the world. We all have bad days. But we shift the mood when we smile. We redefine community when we include someone who feels excluded. A random act of kindness can create ripples of good will and good action. A small seed can grow into a plant that shelters the vulnerable.
Cathy Hird is a farmer, minister and writer living near Walters Falls.




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