Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Moving a grain of Sahara sand


An extremely beautiful and incredibly poignant book—those phrases came to mind after I turned the last page of Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Truth be told, it’s ineffable. There’s a lot of things to love about this book (from Oskar’s precocious thought processes to his grandparent’s heartbreaking epistles) but right now I’m just going to share one of the father-and-son conversations that struck a chord with me throughout the story. Let’s call it “Moving a Grain of Sahara Sand.”

Without further ado, here it is:
I read the first chapter of A Brief History of Time when Dad was still alive, and I got incredibly heavy boots about how relatively insignificant life is, and how, compared to the universe and compared to time, it didn’t even matter if I existed at all. When Dad was tucking me in that night and we were talking about the book, I asked if he could think of a solution to that problem. 
Dad: Which problem?
Oskar: The problem of how insignificant we are.
Dad: Well, what would happen if a plane dropped you in the middle of the Sahara Desert and you picked up a grain of sand with tweezers and moved it one millimeter?
Oskar: I’d probably die of dehydration.
Dad: I just mean right then, when you moved that single grain of sand. What would that mean?
Oskar: I dunno, what?
Dad: Think about it.
Oskar: I guess I would have moved a grain of sand.
Dad: Which would mean?
Oskar: Which would mean I moved a grain of sand?
Dad: Which would mean you changed the Sahara.
Oskar: So?
Dad: So? So the Sahara is a vast desert. And it has existed for millions of years. And you changed it!
Oskar: I changed the Sahara!
Dad: Which means?
Oskar: What? Tell me.
Dad: Well, I’m not talking about painting the Mona Lisa or curing cancer. I’m just talking about moving that one grain of sand one millimeter.
Oskar: Yeah?
Dad: If you hadn’t done it, human history would have been one-way…
Oskar: Uh-huh?
Dad: But you did it, so…?
Oskar: I changed the universe!
This is something everybody needs to realize. What should we do to actually change the world? What does it take for us to realize that we matter?

Most of us think that we’re just unimportant puny beings, that we need to be something as large as an icon like Mother Theresa or Nelson Mandela to leave our mark in the world. I should know that—I myself used to subscribe to such mentality. But I realized that looking at our goals from this kind of perspective is like peering through the wrong end of a telescope. Do we have to wait for so long—do we have to travel that far to start making a difference? The above excerpt pushed the answer right under my nose.

Like what Oskar’s dad had said, we can “change the universe” by doing something as simple as “moving a grain of sand by one millimeter.” In the smallest things we do, in the stories we weave about our journey to reach our stars, we leave our footprints and create inspiration. We may have changed someone’s life without even knowing it while we’re making our way towards our goals. The prizes are bigger and we’re more powerful when we finally made a name for ourselves, but the little things we leave in our wake should never be underestimated. They can alter destinies. :)

Every legend starts from the ground; every big success starts with the smallest of victories. And of course, the triumphs wouldn’t be so sweet if we didn’t get to know the tang of failures along the way. The collage of achievements we make is not measurable by any material things, but by the lives we touch. :) It’s hard to hold on to this concept when we’re clobbered by the harsh standards of our backwards society, but we shouldn’t lose hope. God is our ultimate compass, and the pin is in our hearts.

Cheers to everyone who know they can change the world in their own ways! Believe and inspire. :)


  1. "We can change the world in our own ways." Thanks for that. I know that already kaso lagi kong nakakalimutan. haha! Your post is a reminder and that book = to read! :)
    Kaya siguro I always want to help a stranger... chos. :) <3

  2. Go! Haha. :) Minsan we leave more marks when hindi natin talagang pinipilit ang sarili natin na "I should leave a mark, I should leave a mark, I should inspire." Sometimes it just comes naturally lang. :p Go little things!

  3. One of the best things I've read in a while.
    Your words brighten me up Airiz, i'm thankful to you for that.
    Seriously, if we are considering ourselves puny and insignificant in the vast universe, we ARE actually looking at the wrong end of our telescope.
    All it takes to change the Sahara is to do your bit, your own unique bit :)

  4. @notesbymohit- thanks! I'm glad what I've written here brightened you up in a way. :) I agree with you. Sometimes we don't have to do something so BIG and DRASTIC just so we can say we're contributing in 'changing the world.' :)

  5. Awww, now I remember about Oscar and his heavy boots... and feeling like one hundred dollars. I should re-read the book.

    Beautifully written, the rest. It's amazing, how we can change the world. And a bit scary.

  6. I just finish it and it's awesome. :') Now I keep on saying "I'm having heavy boots" whenever I feel down, haha!

    Thank you, Johanna. :) And I agree with you!