When I do a small thing


“When I do a small thing, a thing to help someone out, and they thank me–quietly, maybe shyly–I feel a sense of gratitude, a sense of quiet peace that I’ve made a small difference, even if just for a moment. And I think, Did Elliott Smith ever feel like this?

Did anyone ever thank him for songs–not the loud, often fake cheering that goes on at a concert, or the scary stalking letter of devotion and “you see my soul.” No, I wonder if ever that shy person, overwhelmed by the world and alone, listening to his songs and getting through one more day despite the world’s best effort to break him or her, did Elliott ever hear thanks from them? Did he know what his songs meant? Did he hear from the ones with no voice, too alone to talk, the ones who felt it inside? The ones for whom his songs were the one thing that made some kind of sense, that gave them a gift of beauty?

I didn’t. I never said anything.

I look inside tonight and wonder, how often have I helped someone? Have I done everything for my own benefit, because that’s what we are taught from the cradle to the grave, or did I ever help someone out that needed it, and if so, have I done such acts often enough? I find myself thinking tonight that all I really want to do is help someone realize their potential or give them a moment to make their day better. What better use of time on this planet can there be? Yet I fear my eye, even when turned outward, looking at the details, is really turned inward, relating those details to me and my perception alone. That I naturally fall into my perception, just as we all do, and that when I’m stripped down I’m found wanting, not measuring up to my potential nor helping anyone realize theirs.

Did Elliott Smith ever think about these things? Did he know when he was carving those songs out of his very core, the meaning they’d have? Or did he just figure it didn’t matter, that nothing matters, that everything dies and everyone leaves?

Almost all of the sentences in this entry are questions. Because I have no answers, not when it really matters. I can bullshit with the best of them but I don’t know anything, anything at all. When I feel the sun come through the window and warm my back, I think only of how cold my feet are. When I complete a task, I think only that I should have done it better and rail at myself for not being smart enough or dedicated enough to do it better. I think of how one smile changed my day and how my face hurts when I force it to grin, like something ugly and tossed off. You can’t force grins. Earn the smiles. I might forget how.

Maybe I would have written Elliott a letter or cornered him after a show and fumbled, trying to explain something that I’ve just spent 497 words trying to explain and failing. Maybe he would have gotten the “Oh, shit” look in his eyes, or tossed the letter in the garbage. Maybe he would have understood, for a moment. But I didn’t make that gesture. He’s long gone, and I’m still here, with his music. Once in awhile I do something good. But not often enough, not often enough at all.”



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