Cheryl Strayed wrote a book a few years ago called Tiny Beautiful Things – It’s a book based on her stint as an advice columnist known as “Sugar” and it’s full of people sharing their heart wrenching experiences and asking advice. It’s full of stories about the things that make being human so hard, yet at the same time, can hold so much beauty if we let them. The story I’m about to share isn’t about overcoming drug addiction or sexual assault or homelessness like many of the Dear Sugar columns were, but tiny beautiful things don’t have to be about overcoming the hardest stuff of life. They just have to be tiny and beautiful.
I went to a local nature preserve this morning to do a quick trail run before work. The park is 300 acres of wilderness and a gravel parking lot, which also occasionally serves as a hang out for teenagers who like to sit in their cars, smoke and leave garbage in their wake. Today I pulled up and there were three boys, probably 16 or 17 sitting on the fence, eating king size candy bars and chugging mountain dew. I inwardly groaned and jogged by them to the trail, thinking, ‘ok, well, at least they aren’t smoking, and I guess I’ll just pick up their trash when I get back’ and feeling annoyed that these kids were infringing on my nature time. I ran my loop, and when I got back to the trail head, the boys were still there, but this time kind of standing around holding sticks and looking across the field to the housing development that borders the park. As I walked by two of them to get back to my car, I overheard one say to the other, “dude, do you ever get tired of looking at houses and crap?” Something about the way he said it made this seemingly insignificant statement into a tiny beautiful thing. Somehow knowing that these boys, who at first glance I would’ve pegged as video gamers and park litterers, had the capacity to notice and verbalize how the human world is sometimes not what they want to interact with…somehow this made me feel better. Somehow this is a tiny beautiful thing on a weekday in August.
And they picked up their wrappers.
Strayed writes, “The useless days will add up to something. The shitty waitressing jobs. The hours writing in your journal. The long meandering walks. The hours reading poetry and story collections and novels and dead people’s diaries and wondering about sex and God and whether you should shave under your arms or not. These things are your becoming.”
I realize the quote above is a loose tie-in to this story. I have no idea what these teenage guys do to pass their time, or if they feel like their days are useless, or if I would deem what they do all day useless. But these boys, and all the other teenagers out there (and yes, plenty of adults), whether they are in the woods or gaming or smoking, are in the midst of their becoming. I don’t pretend to know the context of their hang out at the trail head or what they talked about before or after lamenting the presence of houses everywhere. But it’s heartening to know that some people still find part of themselves on the edge of the woods, wondering about things that are bigger than they are.
Tiny beautiful things.