The Devil is in the Details

In 2009 I was a freshman in highschool. I remember that fall was extra muggy, as if an overcast rolled in to cover me from the light for the remainder of the year. I remember a lot of walks. Solemn, headphones in, walks along the trail system that led behind the string of houses occupied by the faceless peers I used to see in the hallways. This was an odd time, as if I never felt more connected to the world, but at the same time never felt more separated. As if I lived in a haze for the following year, I was lucky I was only 14, and my only option of freedom was those morning walks.

Sometimes, and recently this year, the haze will move in again. As if a heavy fog, I can’t seem to be able to see what I am doing, why I am doing it, or what the consequences are. When I was 14, I never understood the parallels between chaos and the haze, and now, 9 years later, the fact that it all makes sense brings little solace. What do we become when the chaos of haze rolls in, and our perception shrinks to day-tight compartments?

If I had to argue with myself, I would debate that these past 6 months have been a really rough stretch of time. While life has been worse at a variety of points, the issue with this particular period of time for me is that I was supposed to know better. This is why I read, why I spent hours studying philosophy, so that I never allow myself to fall into the traps of nihilism. But, a voluntary trip into hell (which I wrote about earlier, we must travel to hell and build roots in order to reach heaven) seems to have lead me into an area of consciousness I was woefully unaware, and unprepared for. And, I don’t want to be this person anymore…..

Sometimes, when I get caught up in the moment, and when it feels as though I will crumble if I lose the things I am currently attached to, I go back and listen to the 14 year old me’s playlist. I try to force myself to remember what I felt like back then, what the following years felt like, and how, despite having little knowledge, or little self discipline, I survived. If an ignorant and young me could survive, than present me should thrive, so I listen to the old hits and try to respark reason.

Naturally, the first song to appear was a mid-2000’s piece off of the back of the “Minutes to Midnight” Album (by Linkin Park, obviously). Listening to the late Chester Bennington is an experience in and of itself, but when I re-heard the words he penned, some of the haze began to make sense. “Don’t want to reach for me do you, I mean nothing to you. The little things give you away.”

The devil lives in the details. Life, is the details, it seems. Life is all of the tiny, momentary inconsequential flashes that compound and compound. I think this is where I went wrong all of those years ago, and where I sometimes go wrong now. I get caught up in the idea that life is huge achievements and large gestures. I convince myself that my life’s meaning will come from the cross country moves, the movie-style romantic gestures in the rain, the life changing essays. I find a haze, and hunker down until light comes back, aiming only for the grandiose.

Chester is telling us no. He says it is the way they reach for us, it is the tiny things that give life away. In all of life, but specifically romantic relationships, this can not be more true. Relationships are not date nights and fits of passion. While those are nice, they may make up 20% of the relationship, tops. But the 80% lies in the little things we do everyday. The way our partner greets us after a separation, the way we say goodbye, the way we reach out to hold hands, to rub their shoulder when they are tired. Relationships are how we listen, how we sacrifice for meaning. If you can master the small things, if you can greet, and kiss, and hold, and hug, and say goodbye in a way that indicates that you care, then the other 20% is just an added bonus on an already fulfilling relationship.

But if you can’t, then no matter how great that 20% is, it won’t matter at all. If you can’t master the little things, the pointless text messages, the way you two behave while eating, the support on a tough day, then your base camp will never normalize, it will never provide you the needed support (maybe my romantic favorite analogy of all time, that I recently read, is the analogy comparing love, and romantic relationships to a climbing base camp. We as humans need to climb peaks. We need to strive, and grow and fight, and this is a solo journey very often. But, while on this journey, we need support, we need to rejuvenate, we need to come back to base camp. This is our relationship. Spend too much time climbing, your camp is barron when you need it. Spend too much time building a camp, you’ll never climb. You must both strive to become as great as possible, while consciously and deliberately taking the time and care to support and maintain your basecamp. Without either, we collapse.)

This holds true is aspects non-romantic as well. There is a story of an astronaut who, once department form Earth, was struggling to see in space. It seems his helmet was malfunctioning. Call after call to mission command provided no solace, and after almost cancelling the mission to bring him back home, they found the issue: he cleaned his visor wrong. Humorously, but also deeply concerning, is the fact that a space odyssey was almost cancelled because of the way that someone wiped down plastic.

The reason my grandmother holds such a special place in my heart is that she consistently remembers the tiny details. Birthdays, trips, even haircuts. When I worked at a grocery store, I learned a valuable lesson. Listening to others, and learning what they are interested in then allows you to engage them in conversations about those topics at a future time. For example, there was a man who worked in the back of the store who loved western films. I made it a point to learn some of his favorites, and then causally engage him in conversation about them. Focusing on the tiny aspects of his life that he enjoyed allowed me not only to befriend him, but to be the type of person who others enjoy to be around.

Most of my writings are for me, and this one is no different. Sometimes, I forget the tiny details. Sometimes I get so caught up in the wisdom, in the meaning that I can’t seem the see the harm I am doing by ignoring others. Sometimes, I get so caught up in the journey it took to get here, that I force present moments into past themes. Sometimes I crave so much to climb, that I create my own mountains out of molehills. Sometimes, I create my own details, and use them as pinpoints, as a method of connecting the dots to a story that I have already made up in my mind. Sometimes, I think that the way I do things is the only reasonable way, and I disregard the way that others show value. Sometimes, I expect others to provide me reason to trust them right away, instead of giving them the space and time to prove themselves.

I think, when it is all said and done, looking back, the details describe who we are. When we are remembered, or loved, I can’t imagine it being for the large things, but for the onslaught of tiny things. We are how we make people feel. We are the bids that we accept or ignore, we are the words and gestures between moments. If we want to be anything, whether a good person, a good partner, a good father, a good son, it all comes down to the details.

Maybe this is why Chester, again, in the song “What We Don’t Know” sings the words, “All we are is everything we’ve done.” The devil always lies in the details. If we want to master any aspect of our lives, we must master the tiny, everyday, seemingly inconsequential aspects of it.

 

EDIT:

It is very easy to get caught up in this idea. To see everything, every word, every gesture, every glance and slight as a meaningful experience in and of itself. It is easy to prescribe to the idea that the way we do one thing is the way we do everything. It is easy to look at the finest of details and create your own story. Often, this is not only falsified, but detrimentally harmful for your life. Yes, the devil is in the details, always. Yes, the way someone does the small things speaks a thousand times more than how they do the big things, and yes, it is hard for people to fake subconscious manifestations, but there is more.

Sometimes, I say things I don’t mean. I, being someone who is very, very careful with my words, sometimes allow my lips to part and poisonous syllables to seep through the space. If I, once again, being someone who attempts to live by the motto, “Speak only if the words you have to say can’t be left unspoken”, often find myself spewing meaningless, sometimes harmful words into the ether, why wouldn't anyone else?

It is easy, if you pay attention, to find the inconsistent spaces in people’s words, the faults in the actions, and the lack of little things in their behaviors. It is easy to pick apart a coworkers mannerisms, a friend’s speech, or the partner’s touch. But just because it is easy, just because it is easy to look past all of things you appreciate, just because we as humans have a negativity bias, and just because the details are often a true sign of larger feelings, it isn't always. If the devil lives in the details, maybe we shouldn’t always live there too.