Small Insignificant Things
This picture I came upon by accident. I can thank my brother, the mastermind behind the stacks of slides painstakingly scanned into digital form, for the time capsule of memories. My father took this picture. I remember him hanging out of the second-floor hallway window of our white bungalow-style home in the city of Quincy. I must have been seven or almost eight. It was the summer before our big move to the “country.” At least that was how my Nana described it. We lived two blocks away from her and visited often. I simultaneously felt excited and sad about the big move, which was confusing. I knew my Nana was disheartened and I would miss her terribly, but I was looking forward to having woods to explore, an ocean to swim in and new friends to meet.
These concrete steps were at the back of our house, just off of the kitchen. There were eight steps with a handrail made from pipes lacquered black, which made them scorching hot to the touch under the summer sun. My father was an engineer by trade. He had a keen ability to problem solve, to build and fix all kinds of things around the house. He was a project maker, but his follow-through was often disrupted by another idea or something broken which needed immediate attention. My Dad was impressive in many ways, but the state of chaos he created while immersed in these projects was equally impressive. Notice the paint splattered on the concrete. This made me laugh. The evidence of his humanness softened me, as I saw his beautiful, messy self. He was perfectly imperfect. Photography was a hobby of my Dad’s, and as I marveled at the image he captured, it made me miss him even more.
As I gaze at the photograph and drink in his essence. I sip on the nectar of the small insignificant things and find them endearing. Time is magic dust. Sprinkled onto our past, we become a witness, an observer to our histories as they steep in weeks, years, and decades. They have changed us, and we see ourselves and others through a refined lens. Age and experience have brought compassion and clarity and I wish to sit with him in the garden and pick peas as I did as a child. To watch him contemplate silently over morning coffee, or to witness the bold and imperfect ways he expressed his creativity; and as the catalog of slides on my computer screen shuffles these images, I do.
As I revisit, I see me. This girl who I dearly love. The curious younger-self who demands I keep my wonder and never leave her behind. In her image, I remember. The years I attempted to balance frilly cuffed socks and white sandals with my desire to be free to roam and climb like the boy in my neighborhood. I couldn’t understand why it wasn’t okay to walk around topless as the boys did at the park. I wanted to have it all because I intuitively knew the truth; I was all things. I was limitless. I wanted freedom and laughter and to feel beautiful in my skin. When I was eight, I knew truth, but as a teenager and adult, I lost my way. Over recent years, I have invited her back in. We have traveled interiorly and exteriorly, and I have called her mine. The Small One, who’s heart is wide open. How glorious it is to reclaim her!
I promise to continue to question, open my heart wildly and test boundaries. To laugh unabashedly and embrace the hot-messiness and the big outrageous package that I am. To acknowledge my authentic self and let her lead. I’ll find freedom in my words, my body and in my surroundings. I’ll be the executor of my personal power and own my place in the world. I’ll enter the kingdom of peace and allow illusions to slip away.
As I hovered above the photograph, I pulled threads from my tapestry free and examined them. Within the tapestry of the story, I found small insignificant things. The subtle ways my father showed himself—then and now. My father was in my DNA, in the lessons I learned and the love I experienced. I have the ability and the wisdom to use these threads to cultivate self-compassion and to honor the nature of my complexity and to continue to weave it into my present and future self.
We are a collection of our ancestors, our experiences, and our stories. We are the curators of our present selves—a bold, beautiful, boundless expression of life.
Bio: Nicole Hendrick Donovan is an author, reflective storyteller, spiritual seeker, and teacher. Nicole is a former Montessori educator who has worked with a variety of students with various needs. After her son’s autism diagnosis, she became an ABA therapist and worked directly with children and families in the autism community. In July of 2020, Nicole published A Life Suspended: A Mother and Son’s Story of Autism, Extinction Bursts, and Living a Resilient Life. Within the pages of her book, Donovan describes the path to her son’s autism diagnosis and her journey to acceptance and unconditional love, not only for Jack but also for herself. Whether it is through her memoir, workshops, or essays on her blog, Donovan’s vulnerable storytelling cultivates compassion and understanding, opening a door where acceptance and empathy expand. In addition, she is a contributor for The Mighty, an online magazine for people with disabilities. You can connect with Nicole on Instagram @nhdwrites and Facebook at Nicole Hendrick Donovan. To read her blog, or her book, visit her website at nhdwrites.com