Exam. I’m looking at these little girls: all in exactly the same uniforms, their little feet, all with the same white socks, their little heads resting on the tables, all braded in the same way, all with identical little white ribbons… Some of them are sleeping on their desks, some are playing with their pencils or hair, or are trying to mouth something to their friend in another row, something “very important”, probably, similar to “Look, the teacher is drinking water!”. I can see some of the little feet mingling restlessly under the desks… It’s the little things in life that add up to make our environment the way it is.
A couple of hours ago three girls were rehearsing some sort of a dance with their arms, reminding each other of the moves. One of them took out some plastic flower figures and started playing with them on the table with several other girls curiously peeking at her. Another was folding her jumper, then unfolding it, laying it neatly on her desk and then folding it back up. A few more were drawing on their desks with their pencils and then erasing everything.
It seems like they were doing every possible thing they could think of that doesn’t involve them moving around too much or making any kind of sound – both of which would attract the teacher’s attention and they would be told to go to sleep.
Apart from these little moments of “naughtiness”, sleeping is what most of them were doing anyway. And all I’ve been doing for the past six hours or so, was watching these girls taking one test after another with these compulsory “sleep” breaks in between. And even though I am almost falling asleep myself, inside I also feel just as restless as these girls.
Normally, I don’t have much time to think. There’s always so much to do and not enough time for everything. And now I’m forced to sit at the back of this classroom all day, mindlessly staring at the backs of these little heads. I’m not allowed to read, listen to music, or do anything that would occupy my mind. I can’t do anything productive. So I have plenty of time to think. To think about my life, why I am where I am and what I want to do next. And you know what? I don’t want to think! My mind, that’s usually buzzing with all sorts of random thoughts is pretty much empty today. All I want to do is sleep (I guess the girls nodding off around me have something to do with that…). Unfortunately, I can’t sleep either. So I’m just sitting here, looking at those little heads almost through the mist of my dreams…
And then I thought how quickly everything becomes normal. My current surroundings, and everything that puzzled or fascinated me the first time I encountered it. I remember talking to Vidmantas just after moving to Thailand and how there are so many strange things here, that nothing really surprises us anymore. I remember being frustrated with so many things that I now see as normal and have plenty of patience to deal with, because… this is Thailand.
Even though I came here with an open mind, expecting lots of things to be very different, there are some things you just can’t prepare yourself for. Like someone storming into your classroom, asking you to leave all the kids and whatever you’re doing, and go downstairs to see the management a.s.a.p. – all that mayhem just to find yourself and other staff receiving a glass of milk. It’s all the little everyday things that can be very frustrating or really fascinating. And it’s those same little things that you miss about home when you’re abroad. The little things that are different. Specific to each place on Earth and you can only experience them by spending enough time in one place. Getting to know that place well enough, becoming a part of it.
And really, these little moments, these tiny pieces of dust – good and bad, annoying and sweet – that’s what most of our lives consist of. There are not that many big events or changes in our average week, month or year. But there are thousands of these tiny moments which add up to make our days the way they are. And the more happy moments you collect during the day, the better your day is.
Average moments don’t really stay in our memory for long, as there’s no spark to them. And then all we’re left with are the little special moments that made us happy. We filter the events that are happening around us all the time. Anything that is “normal” or usual fails to catch our attention. Maybe that’s why we get used to a new environment so easily – when you stop reacting to things that look surprising or unusual (and most of the things in a new place are!), your brain quickly learns to filter these things out. And you don’t notice them anymore. They become normal.
But I don’t want everything around me to be “normal”! I want to notice the little things. And keep them.
I remember the last few weeks before leaving UK when suddenly all the places that we used to visit pretty much every day became so much more special. Although we always tried to notice everything around us and find joy in the little things, and that’s exactly the reason why we loved the place where we lived. But when you realize you may not come back to that place ever again, you suddenly start to cherish everything around you a lot more. You try to take in as much of what you see and feel around you, hoping to keep it somewhere in your memories. That’s why when exploring new places we often find ourselves reminiscing of where we lived, the experiences we had – glimpses of sunshine on cloudy days, orange streetlamp lights at night, stillness of streets when raining, watching passers-by through a coffee shop window and so on.
Notice the little things. Don’t wait until you have to leave to appreciate what’s around you. Create little moments of happiness. Collect them, and share them with those around you.