While getting ready for a dance at the University of Detroit during a freshman college orientation weekend, I had a life changing experience. It was a moment of awakening that has stayed with me for over thirty years.
The roommate I was assigned for the weekend was a tall, slim girl with short black hair. After a day of touring the campus and listening to speakers, the two of us were getting ready for the dance. My roommate pulled out her collection of earrings. “How do these look?” she asked me showing me a couple of brightly colored button earrings.
“Nice” I replied. She looked in the mirror and then tried on another pair
“How about these?” she asked.
I glanced over at another different color of button earrings. “Those look good too,” I told her.
“Do you think these look better?” my roommate asked with yet another pair of earrings in.
“They all look nice, just wear whichever ones you like best,” I suggested.
“How about these?” she asked still not satisfied.
I looked over at this girl with the big collection of earrings. There was nothing remarkable about any of them. She liked a very specific style and obviously did not divert from this on her visits to the jewelry counter: small and round. As she continued to ponder which earrings would be best for the evening, it occurred to me that at the end of the dance, if every single person was asked which earrings she wore, there likely would not be one person that would remember.
Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
That’s when it hit me that so many of the things we spend time worrying about, do not really matter. It’s not that I was some sort of wise sage at the age of eighteen, but my roommate’s obsessing over her earrings taught me a lesson I never forgot. To this day, there are times when I use the lesson learned from that experience to consider the importance of an issue. Will anyone really care or remember when all is said and done? I often asked myself.
I am not kidding or exaggerating when I say this seemingly insignificant moment in time, has stayed with me for over thirty years. For instance, last spring, my friend Theresa and I planned for our third annual women’s Lenten retreat. As we shopped together for supplies at the discount warehouse store, we were disappointed that there were no paper plates with flowers on them. The previous two years we had found plates with bright, pretty flowers on them. There were only plain white plates with a blue trim around the edge. Theresa expressed disappointment. That’s when I shared the earring story with her. Then I commented, “Theresa, I bet if we ask if anyone can remember what the plates looked like last year, there will not be one person that will remember.” During the retreat with around 150 women, we asked just that question. No one could remember, even though we had offered a prize to anyone that could. Well, that’s not completely accurate. The lady that helped organize serving the food was the only one that did remember. Since she was personally involved with the plates, I think she did not really count.
The fact that Theresa and I were so happy with our pretty plates and yet no one (with the one exception) remembered it the following year, proved my point. We often spend too much time worrying about insignificant things.
It is that thought that makes Ash Wednesday so special to me: You are dust and unto dust you shall return. It’s a reminder not to be too focused on the things that will one day turn to dust. As the mother of ten kids, I can’t say that I have totally risen above worldly concerns in place of purely heavenly ones. I’m in the trenches with the rest of the mothers, caring about things like grades, sports, and clean rooms. However, I also am attracted to friends who share my goal to not get too caught up in the things of this world but rather to place our hearts on everlasting treasures. It’s good company to keep so we can help each other to stay focused on God and the things He cares about.
I try to live with the realization that before too long, our lives will pass away and all will be dust except for the spiritual. Depressing? No, not really. It is reality. Accepting reality rather than denying it, has some refreshing aspects to it. It means that when I am tempted to worry about some trivial matter, I can stop a moment and ask myself if it is really going to matter in the end. Will anyone remember this? At the end of my life, will it matter?
Not sweating the small stuff however, is not contrary to still taking pleasure in the simple things of life. The way I look at it is that if it’s a matter of my personal pride such as vanity or materialism, let things go. Don’t put too much emotional investment in material things and don’t grieve over the loss of them. After all, we will ultimately part with everything in this world.
This year, Theresa and I are planning for our fourth annual Lenten retreat. We look forward to listening to reflections that will help us grow spiritually. And now we know for sure that no one really cares about what their plates look like. But for the record, we did find some very beautiful red and gold, flowery plates this year. We are filing them under the “simple pleasures” category.
(© 2011 Patti Maguire Armstrong)