The Truth Board

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The Truth About the Fact: An International Journal of Literary Nonfiction

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The Truth About the Fact: A Journal of Literary Nonfiction is an international journal committed to the idea that excellence in the art of letters can play a vital role in transforming the planet we share.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Details, Devils, and Sweet Smelling Flowers

“The devil is in the details.” Truth be told, I’ve never really understood what this expression meant. If I had to guess, I’d say it meant that great plans always end up failing because some important details have been overlooked. I’m not sure if that’s right, but if it is, I like this interpretation much better than the actual aphorism. To say that the devil is in the details makes the details themselves seem evil. This doesn’t sit well with me, because it has always been in the details that I have been able to actually see the presence of what I would call the divine. That’s why I like my interpretation of the old saying, because it instead highlights the fact that overlooking the details means that you are overlooking God’s plans.

Perhaps a much better expression is “stop and smell the flowers.” I’ve always been a big-picture person by nature—seeing the forest for the trees has always come naturally to me. The weakness of this is that I overlook the beauty of the those small delicate flowers growing in the shade. When you see the whole forest you get an idea for the plan and direction of divine movements in the world. When you notice a drop of dew slowly sliding down a small, purple-striped flower petal, you get to see the actual presence of those movements.

It seems like so much of our modern life is consumed with plans and predictions of the future. I’m not arguing against this, I’m just pointing out that it causes an imbalance. We plan and prepare for our lives more than we actually live it. I think this has been especially pertinent on my mind with graduation looming on the horizon. I’ve spent 22 years working for the moment that will come up on the morning of May 8th, 2010—the moment when I graduate college. It was something that was always expected of me by my parents, they started planning for this more than 2 decades ago. They’ve sacrificed so much to make it possible. Why? Because college is supposed to be a protection against poverty and want. Because the opportunities that are open to college graduates are greater, and so the opportunities for happiness are theoretically greater too.

The problem is, I’ve spent my whole life becoming very adept at planning, and I honestly haven’t learned how to live. It sounds silly and immature in the most laughable way, but I think its true. Now that I will have these greater opportunities open to me next week, how do I go about discerning what to actually do? It’s been a pretty big stress on my mind, and I’m sure I’m not the only senior who feels this way.

While it could be said that maybe my parents’ preoccupation with planning for me was therefore a kind of “devil in the details” error, I’d have to say that my greatest solace these past couple weeks has been from the rare moments where I’ve gotten to just stop and notice those flowers. Something as simple as looking at the individual grains of wood on the church pews has been incredibly soothing to me. I see the slow and patient movement of a greater purpose there, the workings of higher plan. Human plans are important, but they will always be limited and fallible—how many schemes has history recorded being smashed asunder by an act of God? The details are there if you look for them, and they are there because they were meant to be seen. They were meant to balance out our human plans. They show us the way to truly live.

--Paul Beckwith


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