The Magic of Small Changes

There is an unusual poem by award-winning poet, Mona van Duyn, which illustrates some key aspects of resilience. Please read the poem. I know that many people do not like poetry, and see the core of it as rhyming.

This poem could be called a “prose poem”, and it is quite readable and lacks rhyme. And it’s over the top gloominess is even funny in spots.

The poem is called “Letters from a Father”. The letters come from an elderly father and are written to his daughter.

So please give it a chance so you can make sense of our comments on it.

Here is a synopsis that will allow you to understand how our linking it to resilience makes sense.

An elderly father speaks for both himself and his elderly wife. They seem both to have given up on life, and see themselves as on the threshold of death.

The daughter has sent them a bird feeder and feed, and the letters focus on how she is wasting her money on parents who won’t live long enough to enjoy the results.

Slowly the letters begin to reflect the parent’s re-engagement with life, as seen by the father’s diminished focus on death and increasing enjoyment of the birds, as well as pride in how well they are doing in getting interesting birds to visit.

Basically, that’s it.

Here are our comments on how this poem relates to resilience, and, in particular, how simple, small changes can move us from negativity and despair to positivity. Such changes can help us to shift from a morbid view of life to engrossment in the beauty of even a simple part of our lives.

Small changes can result in major shifts in how resilient we are and in how we appreciate and enjoy our lives. Here is a valuable quotation from a book by Susan and Larry Terkel entitled “Small Change”.

“Small change adds up. This is worth repeating: small change adds up. Empty your small change in a jar every day, and watch the total add up over time. Make small changes in your daily habits – such as your meals or snacks, your relationships, your work, or your leisure- and watch those changes gradually accumulate into a much healthier, happier, and more satisfying life.”

“An angle of only one degree is difficult to draw on a piece of paper. It is too small. If a flight from New York to Los Angeles is off course by just one degree, the plane will arrive closer to Tijuana, Mexico, than Los Angeles.”

“Small changes can get us back on course as easily as the can lead us off course”

For more about “small change”, click here.

We know very well how easy it is to give up on learning how to live a fulsome life. Life can be so densely hard that we may come to believe that nothing short of a miracle could make things better.

The pain of life can make us oblivious to the value of gifts (maybe we should say “blessings”) that fall in our laps. And this devaluation of the good things that come our way can lead us to pass up the opportunities for happiness that are offered to us for free.

In this poem, two elderly people who are in despair are drawn back to the joy that remains for them. And, in this case, all it took was a bird feeder and some seeds.

The Poem illustrates not only the value of small changes, but also the importance of other people in our resilience. The daughter played an essential role.

Resilience is not just inside us. There is a great deal of research that shows that we live better and healthier lives if we get support from others.

So the pathway from vulnerability to resilience includes not only shifts within us, but also shifts in our selection of the people who provide our life’s context. Our family and friends are more than the people we care about; they are also important sources of the support we need to get successfully to a healthy, satisfying life.”

Take an appreciative look at those people, and maybe even let them know how important they are to you.


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