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Small Changes in History


Why make an unnecessary loop around a tree when you can walk straight across a shady yard to reach your goal?

This question gave me new energy yesterday at the end of a very long, hot line in Alexandria, Virginia.  We had been in this line, following several city blocks for almost two hours to see the Coast Guard training vessel, The Barque Eagle. The sun was hot, but families were cheerful as we made our way like turtles towards the entrance gate. I had the feeling that the fathers, on a whole, were much more enthusiastic than their wives and children, as they could be heard in lively conversations, keeping hope alive.

To my surprise, there was very little whining. Our grandson, didn’t complain about his feet hurting, wanting a drink, or sitting down. I didn’t either, nobody did. I heard one little boy behind us say, “We just have to be patient!”

We were reaching the end point of the line, or so we thought, only to find that the straight line that we had been following forever, suddenly did an 350 degree arc around a tree!

WHAT? This didn’t seem to alarm anyone but me. Why were hundreds of people purposely taking a detour away from the entrance? It might have made sense to someone early in the day, but, call me crazy, I wasn’t about to go around a tree in the opposite direction of the gate after standing in the hot sun for two hours.

So, I began to devise a plan of action. I talked to our family and the family in front and back about how we could cut off the arc and begin to straighten out the line. The man in front wanted nothing to do with changing the arc. The women in back thought it made sense. It seemed easy enough.

All it took was one small group of us to go in front of the tree instead of behind it to begin to straighten the arc. Another man in back resisted with a grumble. Why? Then I pointed out that there was more shade IF the line simply went straight rather than circled out-of-the-way around the tree. He made a face. I wondered if it was because I wanted to change things? Was it because I was a woman who wanted to change things? Because he hadn’t thought of it?

He reluctantly followed us inside the arc. Others began to avoid the tree and followed us.

By the time we finished the tour and came back through the line, guess what!? The line was perfectly straight. Directly through the shade, no arc around or even near the tree. I had forgotten about our change, but my husband and grandson pointed it out! I didn’t think our grandson had paid much attention but he did notice that the line had changed shape! Later, he told his dad how “Mimi had changed the shape of the line.”

I pointed out to our grandson that one person or small group (like us) can change history, but you do have to begin doing something different from the crowd. It takes a bit of persuasion, and you will have people who don’t follow or even like the change.

I didn’t tell him that I pondered my actions for a while afterwards. Was I just wanting to “control” something? Why did I think I had to be the one to change the line to be more efficient? Did I like the feeling of irritating those men? No, not really. I don’t understand why other people don’t take initiative to change things. Why do I so often think of ways things could change and then act to change them? Small changes do make a difference. A kind word, a smile, a tender act. Practice makes perfect.

This was a small thing, but I hope he will remember the day his grandparents and he changed the line!