Small Wonders

Zachary - Oxford Junction, Iowa
Entered on August 10, 2007
Age Group: 30 - 50
  • Podcasts

    Sign up for our free, weekly podcast of featured essays. You can download recent episodes individually, or subscribe to automatically receive each podcast. Learn more.

  • FAQ

    Frequently asked questions about the This I Believe project, educational opportunities and more...

  • Top Essays USB Drive

    This USB drive contains 100 of the top This I Believe audio broadcasts of the last ten years, plus some favorites from Edward R. Murrow's radio series of the 1950s. It's perfect for personal or classroom use! Click here to learn more.

I believe in small—not small fry or small potatoes, but small schools and small pleasures. I believe the small shall inherit the earth.

Call me small-minded if you will, but America’s reputation has shrunk with each inch added to the body politic. When recent studies showed the average American standing an inch taller than in 1960, our heads swelled with the news. No wonder pencil-necked bobbleheads adorn our dashboards and desktops, their big heads following our every move from breakfast to boardroom. No surprise the biggest, baddest head in sport, Barry Bonds, broke the home run record this summer while we fans shook our heads vigorously yea or nay.

By such standards as these, I must be a hobbit. I live in a 1000 square foot bungalow. I drive a car the size of a Beetle. I live on a small farm in a small state, Iowa, known for its living room-scale politics and small-town candor.

Since George Washington, Americans have associated leadership with height—a convenient old saw I sometimes dredge up to explain why I didn’t win that hotly contested election for fifth grade class treasurer. With his presidential predecessors casting such a long shadow, 5’ 7” Dennis Kucinich doesn’t appear to stand a chance, he of the tall wife thirty-one years his junior, he who suffers the slings and arrows of late night talk show hosts, his wingtips barely grazing the studio floor.

Historically, our presidents have been tall drinks of water, so lofty they tower over other nations’ undersized foreign secretaries at Rose Garden press conferences. At their differentially sized podiums, our heads of state debate the sorry state of a war waged against a country smaller than Bush’s Texas. Meanwhile, in our nation’s editorial pages, Uncle Sam’s cartoon head has grown positively huge.

Statistics list the height of the average American male at just over 5’ 9”, but statistics don’t capture our literal and figurative largesse. If 5′ 9″ is true, how come the guy in front of me always blocks my view of the JumboTron; how come the woman behind me at the gym has to lower the seat to do her reps; how come the nurse at the doctor’s office lowers the bar for me when I step on the scale; how come my sister calls to say her doctor wants to prescribe my undersized nephew growth hormones?

I believe we wrongly distrust small—small people and small countries—in the mistaken belief that they’re up to something, fomenting some pesky, cunning revolution from below. Since Teddy Roosevelt, our policy in such matters has been to carry a big stick. And yet the big stick has met with only modest successes.

My grandfather, bowed to 5’ 7” at the end of a long life as an Iowa farmer, passed on to me his love of the underdog, his appreciation for the small wonders nature grows. He taught me how to smile gamely as a kid when I heard the song “Short People Got No Reason to Live” playing on the radio.

As a grown man now, I plan to raise my own small children in my grandfather’s small state. I plan to resist every proposed school consolidation and corporate merger on the grounds that bigger is almost never better.

I’ll never win an election, I know, but I’m bound to make a difference in my own small way in my own small community. At the end of it all, I want to be buried in the modest family plot down the road from our Century farm. Like King Tut, my casket will be small, and light. I’ll have to wait till my next life, I guess, to be Treasurer. I never did much care for big numbers anyhow.