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Ridolfo Ghirlandaio: Portrait of a Gentleman (c. 1505)

" … we might misattribute to ourselves."

I've taken to totting up my Canvassing efforts once I return to The Villa. So far, I've yet to cover neighborhoods too distant, all well within walking distance, but Canvassing distances differ surprisingly from any straight-line ones. I have yet to discover the conversion factor, and I might not. I just understand that the differences seem significant. On the first day out, I ranged up to two blocks from our front door yet still managed to clock nearly four miles when counting steps. Don't worry, I'm not nearly anal enough to actually count my steps, but The Muse reminded me that my iPhone has an App that cannot be turned off, which surreptitiously counts steps. Finding a website dedicated to translating step counts into distances, insignificant increments into numbers that actually seem to amount to something was a simple matter. Five days in, I broke over twenty miles marched, and that's only counting two precincts!

I've noticed before that progress comes exclusively in
InsignificantIncrements. I've noticed but have yet to learn to properly anticipate or learn. Nothing much tends to naturally accumulate into something more. I suspect that this represents a universal law, though I've never seen it stated as such. Sure, the accountants employ the rule of seven, which insists that an investment earning a seven percent return will double in value every seven years, a seemingly impossible feat for those of us who can't quite grok exponentiation. We thrive on such contributions. Those who cannot accept this abiding underlying influence of insignificants can never amount to much since they lack the necessary faith in the power of such easily discounted influences. God never appeared all-powerful; he was embodied in atoms and spaces, the very soul of insignificance on their faces.

Ask the sucker searching for sunlight how it managed to crack the sidewalk or how weed seeds blown into sand mixed into concrete managed to sprout and ruin the pour's fine fresh finish. These accomplishments were always in their nature. They needed no advanced schooling. Scientists insist that the simplest algorithms rule these transformations. They're iterated additions more often than complicated calculus, yet they yield the most exquisite, unbelievable outcomes. We're perhaps most capable of over-preparing, of training to perform as if we needed to amount to something from the outset rather than backslide into accomplishment over time. Time's the magician, for she's the one who sets the rhythm that distinguishes between being and becoming, building and done. A walk around the block became a four-mile hike, and the neighborhood now appears utterly different than it ever had before.

My Canvassing amounts to a meandering form of walking. Nobody would ever propose a meandering race, for races exclusively concern themselves with the shortest distances between two points. What if the purpose was not to arrive there first but to arrive there changed? The winner becomes the one whose outlook was best transformed by the experience. No competitor could gain much advantage by moving faster, and no loser would ever emerge by simply taking longer to get there. The rules might seem confusing, but they’re simple. They entail expecting to accomplish something that can only be advanced by insignificant increments. The object could not be to get to the end of the street but to touch a few front porches on the way past. Each slight detour adds contour, texture, and distance, such that by the end of the street, the passage has changed both the street and the Canvasser. The street then features evidence of the Canvasser's passage, and the Canvasser changed his understanding of the meaning of that street. The meander added value.

Will I remember this humbling experience? I went for five walks and covered over twenty miles, one short step at a time. I felt like some Santa leaving gifts. I did not sense any particular significance, yet The Muse reported after attending another in a seemingly endless series of meetings that a few people there had found the literature I'd left on their porch and appreciated the effort. Precisely how our insignificance comes to leave actual footprints must remain an unresolvable mystery. It might be adequate to appreciate that our significance seems to be an inevitable emergent property, not something we can deliberately create and call our own. Grace completes these portraits, which we might misattribute to ourselves. Whatever we do will amount to something, Amounting to what? —the only question.

©2023 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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