A Smaller Life

Lately I’ve been thinking about what it means to have “a big life.” I’ve heard other people saying that they either wanted or were proud to have a big life. Why, I wondered, isn’t it challenge enough just to have a life? Must it be big?

I’m a physically large person and my size sometimes troubles me.  I feel I’m taking up too much room. I remember seeing a T-shirt message that read, “If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space.” That’s me, I thought.

Big lives often take up too much space, especially if they involve very frequent long flights for very brief vacations. If they involve excessive consumption of unnecessary possessions. If enough is never enough.

I was inspired by reading Steven Heighton’s recent article in The Toronto Star: On Hope and Embracing the Smallest Life You Can Love, in which he writes about the relief he felt after the Covid-imposed shutdown in his city resulted in a reduction of traffic, of construction, of the noise created by constant expansion. Like so many, he appreciates the slowing down which has him planting a garden.


Many people are celebrating the slow-down — the Pause that is allowing them to reflect on what is really important to them. As I wrote in an earlier blog, the caesura, in music and in literature is the space that helps us to catch our breath, appreciate the present moment, and perhaps move forward into positive changes. The Covid Caesura.

The Covid shrinking of our lives is allowing us to see more clearly what is very close to home, which is what Blake encourages us to do at the start of Auguries of Innocence:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.

In this poem, Blake goes on to encourage us to look at contrasts and extremes within a framework which suggests that beauty can be found in common places and that what is at hand, and in the moment, can contain vastness. The whole poem invites us to re-read and reflect upon it. And it proposes that a smaller life can be a good life.


I’m glad Heighton notes that it’s possible for a life to be too small. Some people are enduring lives in which their basic needs are not met and those lives are not loveable. It’s incumbent on the rest of us to chip in, to help out, and to vote for better allocations in government spending in order to reduce poverty and homelessness.

Basic Income would be a good start.

If more of us learn to love the small life, perhaps more people’s lives can become loveable. It will require some of us to shrink our appetites and use smaller plates so we can provide more space and make room for others.


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