I’m looking at my lunch box. I carry this little Igloo box to work with me every day. Blue with a white lid, and blue handle. I’ve had it for more years than I can recall. It holds a frozen bottle of water. Crackers. Maybe a Milky Way mini bar. A bag of chips, and a sandwich.
I don’t require much. The crackers are there in case I’m overcome with a mid-morning hunger pain. Most days they remain uneaten. In fact, I’ve been carrying the same pack of crackers for several weeks now. The rest of the contents are restocked each morning.
The reason I am looking at my lunch box is that it is clean. So clean that it got my attention. I carry this thing around in the back of my truck. My hands are usually dirty when I grab it up for lunch. The white lid is streaked with dirt and grease and grime from everyday use.
The inside is not much better. Several years ago, I started putting a small quilted hot pad in the bottom of the box to soak up the condensation off my water bottle. My paper towel napkin was getting wet by lunch time, and this solved the problem. I haven’t changed or washed the pad in years. So, you can imagine.
No doubt, some of you are thinking, “Ooh, gross.” A typical male. Unmoved by dirty clothes, dirty trucks, and dirty lunch boxes. I even eat with dirty hands some days. I suppose I should have contracted some awful disease by now.
What’s important to note is that my lunch box is clean today. And there is a fresh, brand new oven pad in the bottom. I commented to my wife.
“You must’ve cleaned my lunch box. It looks great.”
“You think? It was gross.” She was stating the obvious.
“Except for the scratches, it looks almost like new. Thanks.”
“I didn’t want the guys to think that you lived in a cave.” She is so thoughtful.
I might wash my hands today before I get my lunch box out of the truck. It’s not that I’m changing my ways, or anything like that. It’s just that my wife did this one little thing for me that I wasn’t expecting, and that one small gesture made me smile.
Little things are what make life complete and full and satisfying. Big is nice. A trip to some exotic destination, maybe. An expensive gift. A new thing that you’ve been saving up for since the kids were little. But sometimes all it takes is a clean lunch box. One small thoughtful gesture.
Yesterday I was at my youngest daughter’s house. The man she is about to marry was washing her car. He was putting some real elbow grease into it. Completely focused.
I’ve noticed lately that her car is always clean. Which is a new thing. I wouldn’t point this out, but it’s true. Her “car” over the years has been kind of like my lunch box. She has more demanding stuff to do than to keep a clean car.
The love-struck guy in her life is having none of that. And he is a professional at this. I use a sponge and a bucket with Dawn dish soap. He has special made rags and sprays and polishing stuff. When he gets done, her car looks like it could sit on the show room floor. For him, this is a little thing that he can do for her. She didn’t ask for it. It makes her smile, and because it makes her smile, he smiles. They’re so darn cute.
You might not think this is a big deal. Washing a car. And you’d be right. But as I watched him at work, it made me understand a little more about what kind of man he is. This one little thing is an indicator that I don’t have to worry about the kind of husband and father he will become. He is thoughtful. He understands the value of doing the little thing, which, in a way, could surpass all the big things he could ever do.
Most of us cannot afford the time nor the money to do the extravagant thing. Yet we tend to think that the big things matter most. We are impressed by big. We envy big. We wonder what it would be like to own big.
But don’t be fooled. The little things add up in big ways. Putting away the dishes so she won’t have to. Remembering that she likes a little extra chocolate syrup on her ice cream. Finding a little bowl of your favorite peppermints on the kitchen counter. A warm blanket fresh out of the dryer on a cold evening.
For years, my wife has been asking to have some Spider Lilies in our yard. If you’re from the south, you know what she’s talking about. Little red flowers that poke up about this time of year on long tall stalks of green, seemingly out of nowhere. The walk to my Mama’s front door was lined with dozens of them.
For most of us, the presence of Spider Lilies brings back memories of playing in Grandma’s yard. The first fall leaves on the ground. Cooler nights. The feel of a long hot summer in the rear view mirror. The delicate red set against the changing season.
I should have gotten her some decades ago. I’ m the plant guy, right? Landscapes are my thing. I have contacts with nurseries all over the southeast. How hard can it be to get a few Spider Lilies? You can get them by mail order for crying out loud. But years passed, and I failed to do this one little thing.
Two years ago, Beth came home from a visit to Selma with a small clump of Spider Lilies that she dug out of the edge of creek near her home there. If you know my wife, this was an act of desperation. My inaction had turned her into a plant thief. She showed them to me and asked if I would plant them. I felt like the smallest man alive in that moment.
We found a spot right out front. A place where she could see them if she was sitting on the front porch. They did not bloom that year. The foliage disappeared after the winter and we forgot about them.
Last fall we went out to sit for a while and to enjoy the evening. Leaves were beginning to cover the ground. A little color in the Tulip Poplars. We sat and talked, and then she noticed them.
“Look. My Spider Lilies. They made it.”
Three lacy little blooms had appeared almost over night. You would have thought that an old friend had called her on her birthday. That one of the grandkids had crawled up in her lap and kissed her. She was beside herself.
She walked out to them. Touched them. Smiled back at me. I could tell that this one little thing, in that moment, meant to her that all was right with the world. She was so darn cute.
The little things do matter. And so do clean lunch boxes.