Mainewhile: A little extra effort goes a long way

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There’s a new chair in our home. It just arrived. The wood is walnut, the cushions are chenille, and the design is mid-century modern. It was crafted by hand and exchanged in trade for a painting created by my partner.

One of the many, many perks of sharing my life with an artist.

All this is very domestic – and potentially not all that interesting. But I can’t stop thinking about this one particular spot on the chair: the space where the underside of the arm meets the section that angles down to become the rear leg. This joint – is curved.

It’s a complicated thing this hand-carved, perfectly proportioned French curve. What’s more, strictly speaking, it’s not necessary. These two pieces could have met at a normal, pointy angle. It would have required less skill, less perfection and no one looking at it would have thought it “wrong” in the slightest.

But in that one subtle detail, the chair is elevated from a beautiful piece of functional furniture, to something quite extraordinary. It didn’t have to happen, but what a difference it makes.

This got me to thinking about the sugar maple. Right now, sugar shacks across the region are winding up tapping season and boiling down the gallons and gallons required to make the syrup for which New England is so justly famous. Perfection. However, I was thinking of the sugar maple’s other claim to fame: fall foliage.

As we all learned in school, leaves don’t actually “turn” color in the fall. The crazy yellows, oranges and peach colors are already in the leaf, but the bright green chlorophyll of summer food frenzy covers everything else up. Come the fall, the trees begin conserving resources. The chlorophyll goes away and we are treated to the sight of vibrant colors.

But that’s not how we get the reds. The vivid scarlets and crimsons that set our hills ablaze require an extra effort.

That’s right, at the very time when the sugar maple ought, by all the rules of reason, to be conserving energy and hoarding each and every resource, it instead splurges and produces an additional rush of precious sugar to create those colors. Why? As far as we understand right now, there is no actual benefit to the tree itself.

This, of course, brought me back around to thinking about the day-to-day and all of us. We do this, too. Every day, in countless extraordinary moments, people make the decision to extend themselves. I don’t just mean the headline-worthy acts of courage or compassion. I’m thinking about the small, unnoticed moments that add up.

The stranger running after us to return a dropped mitten, the librarian who remembers us and suggests a new book, the bagger who makes sure we know where the eggs are, the barista who adds the extra flourish to the pour, the teacher who stays late to make the next day’s lessons colorful. Not strictly “necessary,” but impactful.

The new chair in my home will not solve world hunger. It will not reverse climate change, cure a disease, or eradicate hate. This chair cannot solve the woes of the world. What it can do is welcome guests and family home, and serve as a simple, yet tangible reminder that when we bring our best and fullest selves, we create beauty and elevate the moment.

Brunswick resident Heather D. Martin wants to know what’s on your mind; email her at heather@heatherdmartin.com.

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