Small Things of Consequence

By Posted in - Life on May 27th, 2018 The Attentive Body blog by Elaine Konopka

We tend to admire the longer, larger things in life: the tallest building, the longest bridge, the highest mountain, the furthest distance travelled, the relationships that go way back. Today I want to pay tribute to the small and the brief.

The smallest bone in the human body is the stapes. It’s part of a chain of three tiny bones that transmit sound energy from the external ear to the inner ear. The hammer-shaped malleus strikes the anvil-shaped incus, and these vibrations travel through the stapes, which is like a tuning fork. The stapes is smaller than the head of a safety pin, but without it, you wouldn’t be able to hear.

the stapes bone

From left to right: the malleus, the incus, and the stapes.

In case you’re wondering, our biggest bone is the femur, or thighbone. Comparing the femur to the stapes is like looking at an elephant next to a flea.

Some people take exception to being a cog in the system. I understand, I do – the desire to stand out, to be autonomous, to feel substantial. But when I look at things like the stapes – a delicate, infinitesimal cog in the vast landscape of the human body – my respect for the microcosm grows. The stapes is miniscule but important. Without it, things would not be heard.

Small things of consequence also exist outside the body. Haven’t there been relationships or events that were fleeting or random, but affected you mightily? Who were those visitors who appeared only briefly in your life, but left their mark?

My most recent such encounter, which brought me to this whole subject in the first place, was Jana, who owned the gluten-free café a few blocks from my office. Great food, incredible coffee, but I also went for the cozy, neighborhood atmosphere and Jana’s wiry, energetic presence. She became my friend. I would run over when I had a long enough break between clients. It became a regular, timeless pause in my day, a happy habit. She would make me a cup of coffee with her serious machine, shiny and silver on the counter, and carry this coffee and a piece of carrot cake like treasures to where I sat, usually the table closest to the kitchen. If it wasn’t too busy, she would bring a coffee for herself in a fluted glass, and pull up a chair.

When the weather was good we’d sit on the plain wooden stools just in front of the café with our backs to the window, faces tilted up to the afternoon sun. We talked to each other side by side, Jana sometimes angled toward the window to keep an eye on the customers, me looking out at the shopfronts across the way: the “reggae and smoke shop,” Elijah; the metalworks; Tonton Luigi and other bars waiting dark and idle until evening. Roughly half the people who walked by knew her and stopped to say hello. Our talk was surprisingly intimate, given the sporadic nature of our visits. We laughed a lot too. Every time I showed up for coffee and carrot cake, we would pick up the threads of our conversation and our lives, check in with each other, vent, encourage, sympathize, listen.

It was not the femur bone of the friendship world, the weighty kind formed by years of shared experience. I am blessed with a few femur bones among my friends, and without them I would no doubt be less steady on my feet. This was a stapes relationship: remarkable in its delicacy and its significance.

Jana closed her café earlier this month. I hope we will remain friends. But I know she’s leaving, and her leaving will leave a hole like the space of a stapes gone missing. Some things will go unheard. Our relationship moved me tremendously, as it gave proof that the ability to make friends is perennial, if we follow our instincts with open eyes and hearts (and sometimes stomachs). However brief, it has its place among the experiences that have made a lasting impression on me: two women talking outside a café on a backstreet, small cogs in the vast terrain of this earth, sipping coffee in the afternoon sun.

 


Elaine Konopka is the founder of The Attentive Body in Paris, offering private sessions in attention-based bodywork and pain management. You can also join her for Write & Breathe: regular meetups combining writing for wellbeing and conscious breathing.

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(12) awesome folk have had something to say...

  • Marie - Reply

    June 11, 2018 at 17:58

    Lovely piece, Elaine. I’ve been fortunate to have had some of these small exchanges or brief friendships. Little dots that make up some of the entire picture.

    • Elaine - Reply

      June 11, 2018 at 22:40

      Nice! An impressionist view: that works for me. Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.

  • Hermine Sperr - Reply

    June 11, 2018 at 13:05

    Such a pleasurable read! It touched and moved me deeply.

    • Elaine - Reply

      June 11, 2018 at 22:38

      Thank you Hermine! I’m happy to know you’re out there reading.

  • Francine Marzigliano Giorello - Reply

    June 11, 2018 at 00:47

    I truly enjoyed reading this piece. People come and go and make huge impressions on our lives. Think about SDA…Sr.Eileen played a significant role in developing my faith…yet she was at the school with us for 3 years? How about Peter Begans? So brief yet unforgettable. This piece caused me to pause and think about the people who have made a lasting impression while being but a tiny part in my life. Thank you ! ( Oh, yeah….there was my boss of two months who fired me…really…when I was a junior at SDA….yet, without him firing me, my work ethic may not be what it is today…who knows?)

    • Elaine - Reply

      June 11, 2018 at 09:05

      Hello Francine! Absolutely, teachers — the really special ones that wake us up and inspire us — fall into the “stapes” category. In the grand scheme of things, the routine that develops with them is not such a long-term thing, but it can have such a lasting effect on our lives. And sure, there are the people who pop into your life in unpleasant ways, but also play pivotal roles, like your high school boss. I’m happy my blog got you thinking about all this. Thanks so much for reading and taking the time to comment!

  • Sarah Donovan - Reply

    June 10, 2018 at 21:43

    Lovely.

    • Elaine - Reply

      June 10, 2018 at 22:12

      Thank you Sarah, and thanks for reading.

  • Wright - Reply

    June 9, 2018 at 21:33

    Hi Elaine,
    Thank you for so much for this gentle reflection on the small things that matter in life. Loved the metaphor about the smallest bones within ourselves, made me think of the interstitium, that beautiful, elaborate lacework that weaves each cell membrane to our greater whole, creating new unimagined pathways that we can now observe. Just like the interstitium that acts like a hammock for our bones and muscles, literally suspending us in its intricate embrace, so these small moments you so perceptively describe cradle our experience of life in all its simplicity!
    Am about to step out onto a London street festooned with the smiles and laughter of saturday night passers by….off to my favourite little café where food, coffee and good conversations are guaranteed late into the summer night….

    • Elaine - Reply

      June 9, 2018 at 21:38

      Love the image of the hammock! And of you going off into the laughter (and coffee!) of a summer’s night. Enjoy!

  • Greg Nelson - Reply

    May 30, 2018 at 20:50

    Isn’t it funny how sometimes the “ships passing in the night” relationships can make such a big impact? I’ve experienced this as a co-worker, neighbor, and other facets in my life where I often think, “wow, I wish I would have met them years ago…”

    As usual, beautifully written blog!

    • Elaine - Reply

      May 30, 2018 at 20:56

      Thanks Greg. And you read this before my newsletter even came out! I’m honored! True, true — coworkers and neighbors are often transient relationships, yet full of interaction. It’s kind of like an impressionist painting… Thanks for reading!

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