Three inches… about the size of your finger. Well, at least mine. Not that three inches is the rule of thumb for all hands (pun intended). We don’t often find significance in that little of space, especially in a society that often glorifies size or distance (trucks, fish, houses, mountains, how far our morning run is, etc.). I used to play football. I know what its like to weigh importance in how much you can lift. “The more the better” is a motto that underlies American socialization, and becomes ingrained into our philosophies. I don’t think this is holistically good or bad, but it is hard to get away from. And emphasis on one thing always shifts our attention away from something else.
I’ve taken to driving a motorcycle here in Phnom Penh, whose crowded streets move more like a river of moto-bikes with cars sprinkled here and there. Traffic is fluid, always spontaneous and congested... and exciting! Cars pull in front of you and motos are keen on taking unexpected turns and detours. In the moments where I’m only inches away from the moto next to me, however, there is nothing more important than those inches. All of a sudden, a matter of inches becomes my whole world.
Life, and time, seem to move differently here. Life happens at a closer distance whether you are driving on the street or walking through the crowded markets. Bumping into people and ducking under tarps is simply how life functions. People pack onto a single moto, sometimes up to 4 at a time! The kids at the orphanage sleep close to each other in beds, on tables, or huddled on the floor under mosquito nets. Wherever we go, I usually have a kid on my hand hanging close by my side. The distance in which I interact with Cambodian life has taught me a lot recently.
I love wide open spaces (not referring to the song). The horizon stretched out before you, the clean, crisp air and the silence that holds you. But I’m forced to interact with people at a much closer distance on several levels. Physically, mentally, emotionally. And for me recently, life has been about finding God in the small moments. An “inch” can be something as small as my response to a child after an exhausted day. Even as small as my tone, something so stinging and influential that often goes unnoticed. It could be a simple conversation on the steps, or even a single word. The hard part is this: you never know! You never know which small moments matter, and what the “right” response is. There is no way to tell which “inch” will be the one that grows into something bigger, something they will remember. I will most likely never know if these small moments surmount to anything, but I remember my dad’s words:
“Its not up to me to know what happens later on down the road. I’m called to plant the seed regardless.”
I recently finished reading the Upanishads, the spiritual texts and wisdoms of Hinduism, while sitting on the third story of the orphanage overlooking the city as the sun set behind me and storm clouds rolled in over the horizon in front of me. A verse from the Atma Upanishad read:
The supreme [God], adored in the scriptures,
Can be realized through the path of yoga.
Subtler than the banyan seed, subtler
Than the tiniest grain, even subtler
Than the hundred-thousandth part of hair,
This [God] cannot be grasped, cannot be seen. [Eawswaran, 286]
Beautiful words that recognize that God is found in the subtle things that often go unnoticed in our lives. That though God cannot be “grasped” or “seen,” maybe he draws us close enough to where we can touch something. Close enough to be realized. And this realization is discovered within the little moments of life. A raindrop, a conversation, a tone, a single word. Yes, even within a matter of inches… those small moments that can make all the difference.
The following pictures speak to the “Cambodian distance” I’ve experienced.
“It took a while for you to find Me,
But I was hiding in the lime tree.
Above the city in the rain cloud.
I poked a hole and watched it drain out.”