Just Think Small!

The iron skeleton of a five-story, luxury-apartment building rose beside the small Twin Pines guest house. Several others, taller and more imposing, stood at the edge of town. The sweat of hundreds of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants, and the din of construction, foretold the doom of Tanah Rata. A few years is all it’ll take for the quiet highland dream to devolve into a commercial nightmare. A debasement inevitable to any place unlucky enough to contain a shard of paradise.

Those bulky grey tombstones sully the landscape that give them their value. They produce bustle and pollution by their construction. And they summon bustle and pollution by their appeal. Soon hundreds of tenants, merchants, and clerks will arrive to fill the apartments above, and more will fill the cafe’s and shopping outlets below. The town will pave more roads, raise more power-lines, construct more accommodating facilities. And every square meter of added infrastructure will be one less of pristine jungle.

In the end Tanah Rata will be a contrived glimpse of its original splendor. But balance sheets and check books will gleam black for people all the way to Kuala Lumpur, so it will be done.

Some days the grey dust of construction, and the haze that crept up to that altitude, smothered me in a gloom. While in such a mood one night, I decided to wander off the latent sadness.

In an alley beside the construction site I found two kids playing with bricks. They were stacking the grey blocks into crude towers, then kicking them down in unending amusement. I joined the fray.

I designed and constructed a fine tower, built of carefully-selected, intact bricks. After ten minutes of attentive effort, it was complete. Then we toppled it right down, besieging it from afar with the broken rejects. The kids threw with awkward abandon. Their uncoordinated limbs flailing madly to aim the cumbersome chunks. In that moment I tossed aside everything I knew about throwing things, and flung my arms in a wild arc, hurling the chunks of rubble like an epileptic cricket bowler. It felt good to [be childlike] again.

The kids continued playing, refocusing their attention on a pile of dirty mattresses. They jumped up and down on them, and off of them, laughing and laughing. How easily they found joy. And from a discarded stack of fabric-wrapped springs.

Then to my surprise, one of the boys sensed my detached reverie. He came to me and very astutely advised, ‘Just think small.’

‘Just think small! Just think small!’ He said it again and again. He shouted it at me from atop the mattresses. He claimed it with the assured conviction of an elder monk lecturing a young disciple.

Here was this kid no older than ten.  Not only could he sense beyond his own internal psyche, but he could identify the reluctance of another and address it with a perfect tint of cryptic brevity.

So I jumped up on the dirty mattresses. I tried, but for me there was no joyful bounty to reap. I felt pathetic on the grimy springs.  Partly because I was still struck by the child’s precocious social awareness, and partly because there are some springs with simply no more bounce in them.

However my somberness had evaporated on an empathetic wind. Simply being with those kids was all I needed to feel their joy.

The kid’s mantra stuck with me.

Later I reflected that I do think small. It takes the form of a simple moment’s appreciation; a smelling of the roses, a dancing in the rain, a running on the beach. And I also think big; about my life and its timeline; and about communal, societal, and global contexts.

I reflected that I am master of my thoughts, and conduct them accordingly. I can capture the delights of a simple pleasure, and I can harvest the deep satisfaction of a noble endeavor.

I never saw those kids again. But I won’t forget them, nor the insight they bestowed. We wandered about a bit more, but went separate ways as a storm blew in. It rinsed away the silt, and cleansed the air of haze. I breathed deeply and smiled.

Thank you for reading.

-C

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