A week ago my employer sent out an email that would make anyone with Generalized Anxiety Disorder shudder. Our “Diversity and Inclusion” tip of the day was to “Sweat the small stuff.” This, at first read, felt like insanity. If I were to spend my time sweating the small stuff I would blow my entire budget on deodorant. I’m already a compulsive worrier – I didn’t need to be told to worry more.
But after my initial reaction, it caused me to reflect on how I think about the small stuff. In my experience, it is often the small stuff that I love about those I am in relationships with and miss about those I am separated from (either by distance or by the ending of the relationship). The inside joke, the strange greeting, or just the timbre the conversation takes on between certain people.
In the 1998 film Meet Joe Black, a conversation occurs between William Parrish (Anthony Hopkins) and Joe Black/Death (Brad Pitt). During this conversation, Parrish shares lunch with Joe and reflects on his wife who had passed away. “My wife turned me on to these. Cold lamb sandwiches. Not as tough as roast beef. Not as boring as chicken. She knew things like that. God, I miss her.” Sandwiches are, in the grand scheme of things, a rather small thing, but it is a signpost for his wife’s love for him – and in return, his love for his wife. A sandwich was something he ate for lunch; a cold lamb sandwich was a reminder of his wife.
Shortly before his passing in 2003, Warren Zevon made a final appearance on The Late Show. The entirety of David Letterman’s show that night was devoted to Zevon. He played three musical numbers and was the sole guest of the evening. During the interview, Letterman asked Zevon if he had any advice or if there was any philosophy he was living by. His response: “Enjoy every sandwich.” When people are faced with death (like Parrish and Zevon were) the little things take on new significance.
I think most of us live our lives for the big moments. Most of us expect to have a time before we die to enjoy small things with renewed significance. Most of us, however, don’t get that chance.
I spend too much of my life looking for the grand gestures. I wonder why the big stories haven’t happened to me. I haven’t found a spouse or landed the big job. I haven’t gotten the major praise or exceeded in anything at a high level. But in looking for those things, I have missed out on a lot of sandwiches. I’ve missed out on a lot of little acts, or at least not valued them the way I should because they don’t line up with my expectations.
So maybe it isn’t as much about sweating the small stuff as it is about loving the small stuff. I guess my advice to myself, and to you, is: Enjoy every sandwich, especially the cold lamb ones.