Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Tiny Ripples

Well, the mayhem of June is over and we are coasting into the hot, sunny days of July. Another Fibre Week is behind me, and I am stopping to catch my breath before I start harassing inviting instructors to join us for next year. It is a time to rest, and to reflect.

This was a milestone year at Fibre Week in many ways. This year is the centennial of the establishment of both the community of Olds and Olds College. It is also the 25th anniversary of the Master Spinner Program. This was the year that we saw the most graduates in one year from the Master Spinner Program, five in all. And this is the year that we said goodbye to the man who has been at the helm of Fibre Week for the past 12 years, Otto Pahl.

There was much talk of legacies and the impact of the actions of innovators, leaders, and decision makers on the lives of those of us who have come to love Fibre Week. New scholarships were introduced, the vision of those who first proposed the Master Spinner Program was lauded, the impact of Otto's interest in this quirky little program and his influence in its growth was celebrated. I was personally thanked for my dedication to the monumental task of creating the Fibre Week instructor roster and workshop schedule again and again. Great, sweeping decisions, long, arduous tasks, and gigantic risks were all publicly praised.

However, what I learned at Fibre Week this year was that the big things don't matter quite as much as the little things. Sure, friends and strangers alike told me stories of how decisions I had made in the dark of winter in my little studio had introduced them to a skill, an instructor, or an idea that had changed their life. And, let me tell you, it is a wondrous feeling to know that you have had that impact on someone. But, what struck me most in this year of celebrating big accomplishments was the number of people who came forward to thank me for the tiny gestures.

We rarely get to see the impact of the little things we do each day, like letting someone in the grocery store line go ahead of us, or smiling at someone on the street, but for some reason, this Fibre Week, I was repeatedly reminded that even our simplest gestures can have great impact.

I have two stories to share that are sharp illustrations of this point.

My journey to Fibre Week this year was epic in the scope and number of minor disasters that occurred en route, starting with a flat tire before I left home delaying my departure by two days, followed by a series of miscommunications and missed appointments. Once I actually got on the road, the miscommunications continued to plague me, and then the brand new tire that I had waited two days for failed. In the pouring rain, in Red Deer. After the lovely gentleman from AMA Roadside Assistance had put my spare on, I limped to the local franchise of the tire company that had installed said new tire, only to be treated with blatant sexism ("Well, honey, I don't know that I can help you...) and even more blatant lies about the cost and availability of a new tire.

After much teeth-grinding and Googling, I discovered another franchise located in Olds, which is where I wanted to be anyway, and we set off on the back roads, driving slowly and carefully on the emergency spare. The Olds franchise was happy to help me, and I worked my way back to the College.  Where I was immediately met with chaos and panic. The College was serving as an evacuation centre for the victims of the flooding that was impacting much of Southern Alberta at that time and this was causing much confusion with the housing staff. Keys were being mixed up and double bookings abounded. Instructors were stranded by mudslides and washouts. Mayhem ruled.

There was not much I could do about any of it, though, so I decided to move into my condo. Exhausted, cranky, and overwhelmed, I grabbed an armful of stuff and trudged through the rain to my accommodation. I opened the door and there was a young woman who looked very familiar to me--I presumed I recognized her from the Master Spinner Program--who said something like "Hey, looks like we get to be room mates!"

To which I replied something along the lines of "Huh."

Not really smooth and eloquent, but apropos to the moment.

The evening progressed, I ate and had a glass of wine and chatted with good friends. I went back to my condo, where my room mate, whose name I had now remembered, was already in her room. I went to bed, thinking nothing more than "Thank goodness I am warm and dry and all is well."

The next day was a busy one for me, so after a brief exchange of good mornings and small talk about the weather with my roomie, I went about my rounds, making sure instructors had everything they needed, familiarizing newbies with the campus, and shooting interviews for Fibre Optic. I had a quick supper with my son, then headed back for a quiet evening in the condos.

My room mate was in, and I poured a glass of wine and sat down to chat with her. By now, I had fully remembered who she was--she had taken a class from me last year at Fibre Week. And, unfortunately for her, she had been there when I had my momentous meltdown. And worse yet, she had felt that she may have triggered it by raising the question about the handout that threw me for a loop. And then I had been rude and abrupt with her as I moved in.

A moment of personal doubt, and a few tiny, careless acts, and I had given this poor woman the idea that I disliked her. Which was not the least bit true, but that was how she had seen me. Hopefully, we have cleared the air, but the point that even my unconscious actions could impact someone this way really threw me for a loop.

The other story is a happier one. As I mentioned before, there were five graduates from the Master
Spinner Program this year. I was fortunate enough to have taught 3 of them, so I know I somehow influenced them, for good or for bad. But when I congratulated one of the two I had not taught, she thanked me profusely for helping her so much through the program.

Now, I had chatted with her. I had gone out for dinner with her, or sat with her at lunch. But I had never taught her. Never marked her books. Never helped her with her homework. How had I helped her through the program?

So, she told me the story of her Level One year, when she was overwhelmed and frustrated and scared that she couldn't handle the amount of work ahead of her. She was headed back to her condo, admitting defeat and thinking she didn't fit in. She was passing a bunch of Level Six students who were heading out for dinner, and one of them asked if she wanted to come along. That would have been me.

I don't remember that dinner. I have no idea who was there, or what we talked about, or where we ate. But SHE remembered that dinner as the moment she realized that she was welcome and that she fit in. A simple, careless gesture on my part--"Hey, want to join us for dinner?"--was a turning point in her life.

What both of these encounters reminded me was that it is not the great things that we do, but the little, tiny ones, that change the world. We impact people without even recognizing it with the little things we do every day.

When you drop a great big rock into a pool of water, there is a great big splash and everyone notices. When you drop a tiny pebble into that same pool of water, there are just tiny ripples that are barely noticeable. But those tiny ripples spread outward and go on and on, and we may never know where they end up.

So, while I will continue to drop big rocks and try to make a splash, what I'm really going to do is remember that I can accomplish much more by dropping the tiny pebbles and making those tiny ripples.

1 comment: