The Little Things
A Guest Post By Stephanie March
While growing up we are often told that what matters in life the most are "the little things". As kids we nod, have no clue what that truly means, and add a fifth page to our wish list for Santa. As teenagers we roll our eyes, pretend to listen, and then ask for more money. But at some point along the way, hopefully, the truth of that statement begins to take on some actual meaning.
Some of us learn it earlier than others and some of us never learn. Those that do learn the true reality of the little things lesson can learn it on a small or large scale. I happen to have learned it on a scale of epic proportions.
I did a fair share of volunteer work even as a teenager and often with my church. One of the most memorable trips was to rebuild homes in one of the most poverty stricken areas in America. I gave up a decent chunk of my much anticipated summer break to sleep on a non-air conditioned gym floor in sweltering heat. Each day we worked tirelessly in our heavy jeans and work boots. But that isn’t what stands out in my memory from that summer.
I remember the conditions of those homes, the kitchen appliances sinking down below eye level into what was supposed to be a floor. The stories behind the houses and the families that lived there. One house that I painted belonged to a single Mom recovering from domestic violence. I can picture me, standing on that ladder, completely oblivious to all we would one day have in common. But, most of all, I remember the looks of gratitude and humility we were given.
Before Christmas of 2011, my ex was arrested and charged with acts of violence. I was abruptly swept out of our home by authorities and placed in seclusion a few days prior to the holiday. I was kept in highly protected housing for approximately 120 days, give or take.
And it is during those 120 days that I began to notice more and more the impact of the little things.
I had a kitten that my ex-husband had physically harmed and he was boarded for free in an animal shelter. Instead of being told to leave him behind, like almost everything else in my home, I was able to keep that one seemingly little thing. I would wake up in the morning and go to make coffee in the kitchen at the safe house and several times had to stop myself from calling out his name. I was so used to seeing him wrapped around my feet, causing me to nearly trip and fall.
I missed the aggravation when it wasn’t there anymore. I missed the sound of that tiny meow greeting me each morning. The little things we don’t even notice or realize we would miss. And often I found myself behind closed doors and alone, my face covered in tears over those little things.
When the safe house purchased a coffee maker and installed wireless internet, I was out of my mind excited after going a few weeks without both. Just having a cup of coffee in the morning again, part of my old familiar routine, made me so happy. Having wireless internet access was beyond what I ever expected. I thanked them profusely for this tiny slice of normalcy. It was all about those little things.
When the safe house had one of the many camera monitors temporarily go down and promptly fixed, I stood there and smiled. Then I sat down at the kitchen table and realized how thankful I was it had been fixed. My safety was not at all compromised but, regardless, it made me feel more at ease in what was my new not so normal life.
I realized the sad irony in that and shed some tears at that table. That table saw many silent tears of mine while I was there. And I'm willing to bet it has absorbed many from other women who have sat at it before me and will in the future. Women that hold their heads high and smile for their children but who let a tear or two fall when they have a moment alone. The survivors. The ones who know about the little things.
I stayed at more than one safe house over my 120 days. Of course I can't say where. One of them was a place that deserves to be shut down, but that is an entirely different article. And I am actually grateful for that place. If it wasn't for that place I would not have gone to the next place.
All of this has led me to where I am today... writing this for you from my new home.
When word spread about my new home I was bombarded with donations. The former me would have turned it all down because I never knew how to accept help. This time I welcomed it with open arms. And with each item that I unpacked it was like a little "welcome to your new home and your new life". Nothing amazing. Nothing fancy. Things like silverware so that I wouldn't have to purchase any or live off of plastic utensils. Blankets, sheets, pillows, pots, pans, and of course... a coffee maker.
I have donated a lot of items over the years to different organizations and I am so glad I took the time. There are always people out there that need what you don't. And now, here I am, on the opposite end of what I once paid forward.
You can acquire the finest of material things in life and they can be gone in an instant. But when it happens what you miss aren’t the big ticket items. You miss the little things that made your home feel like home. The things that once surrounded you in your familiar life.
Many people throughout that part of my life provided me with amazing support and encouragement. A phone call, a text, or an email just to say they were thinking of me or to randomly make me laugh. Hugs from social workers and advocates that worked overtime to make sure I remained safe during all court appearances, in between, and after. Those that put up with my late night texts and phone calls when I needed to vent or do nothing but cry.
Starting over in life can be seen scary and daunting. Terrifying and seemingly impossible at times. But in the between you have these moments of bravery and excitement. Moments that make you proud to be a new independent you.
Today, I’m talking to you from the other side. The other side that you can absolutely get to. And, you know what? There is nobody here to demean me, break things, or call me names. There is nobody here to cheat on me, use me, or destroy every shred of my self-esteem. There is no form of domestic violence in my life. And each day I get a little bit stronger. Each day I smile bigger and laugh a little louder.
And each day I am so very grateful for the little things.