The Big Little Life


I always wanted to live a big life. The women I admired were colorful legends, real and fictional: the dancer Isadora Duncan, the Out of Africa writer Isaak Dineson.

I was restless to make a mark on the world – the kind of celebrity where reporters breathlessly reported on my daily routine, the kind of life where they would break into television with special reports when I died.

I wanted to be a force of nature.

But I have to face the fact that I am in the latter half of my life (and that’s assuming I live to 100, which is a pretty audacious assumption!) and there are no red carpets rolled out for me, no marching bands announcing my presence.


I lack the discipline to be amazingly good like Mother Theresa and the energy to be really bad like Ted Bundy.

So what is left is the medium life.

I am not making headlines.

I am waking up each morning with a resolve to be kinder, exercise more, make sure my mind stays sharp.

And I am finding that there are little moments so exquisite they take my breath away.

Smiles and conversation around the table after finishing food that, just an hour ago, was a jumbled refrigerator shelf of ingredients. I made that food. It nourishes people I love.

A dog, wary and abandoned when we adopted her, falling asleep next to us, legs in the air all over the place, a tiny doggy smile on her mouth.


The look in my husband’s eyes at a public event as he seeks me out for a private grin, knowing that we’ve just read each other’s minds.

My daughter, talking about one of her patients, sounding so professional that I am taken out of the conversation for a second, astonished at this lovely, competent adult who evolved from the goofy, gawky kid.

The poet T.S. Eliot wrote in The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock and Other Poems, “I have measured out my life in coffee spoons,” and I always read that quote with horror. To measure life in such tiny increments when it should instead be overflowing in wild waves of color and music, seemed the worst of obituaries.

But now?

Now life’s big Big Moments seem less meaningful than life’s big Little Moments.

Helen Mitternight is a former AP reporter and current freelancer living in downtown Charleston. She headed up public relations for the Humane Society of the...

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