Little things

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A stray comma before the word “and;” a picture hung slightly off-kilter in a friend’s living room; flat whipped cream; a hair out of place—little things. Little, but they bug us. Years ago, the nun in his Catholic school taught him a comma should never be placed before the word “and” and years later it bugs him to see a comma before “and.” He sees them all the time—they stick out like a sore thumb to him. Grammar rules, have they changed? Do people not know better?

A stray comma before the word “and;” a picture hung slightly off-kilter in a friend’s living room; flat whipped cream; a hair out of place—little things. Little, but they bug us. Years ago, the nun in his Catholic school taught him a comma should never be placed before the word “and” and years later it bugs him to see a comma before “and.” He sees them all the time—they stick out like a sore thumb to him. Grammar rules, have they changed? Do people not know better?

Was Sister wrong? Never! If she was wrong about that, was she wrong about everything else? Or anything else? Turns out, grammar rules are complicated and commas before “and” are sometimes wrong, sometimes right and sometimes optional. Maybe too complicated for fourth graders learning the basics.

In the grand scheme of things, a comma in the wrong place is a little thing. A picture hung slightly off-kilter in someone else’s house is a little thing, too, but the temptation to reach up and nudge it into place distracts you until suddenly you realize you’ve missed the whole conversation going on around you. At least the picture’s not hung too high, way up there on the wall where you have to strain your neck to see it, instead of nice and friendly, hanging close over the back of the couch. That would need a little more than a nudge to fix.

Little things. The whipped cream lies flat on your sundae. What happened? Will it taste okay? Should I eat it? Doesn’t matter much: eat it or don’t eat it. There’ll be plenty more whipped cream in your life, once you’re off your diet. And that hair out of place—it won’t stay put no matter how hard you try. Wet it down; slather gel on it; spray the life out of it—it still pops up just as you turn away from the mirror. A little thing but darn! It sticks way out there!

Little things. Did I mention holding the remote upside-down? The car cutting in front of you? The forgotten appointment? Will it matter tomorrow? Does it matter today? Not much, because by tomorrow there’ll be something else to bug you, some little thing you weren’t expecting that drives you bats and meanwhile life goes on with all its important happenings—in spite of your preoccupation with a few little things. Your kids still love you. Your health is holding up better than expected. The bills are paid. You have friends to support you when you need it.

Don’t forget the other little things—the rose-colored sky at sunset; the happy pup licking your cheek when you arrive home from work; the sound of birds chirping to greet the morning; your kid unexpectedly popping out with, “I love you, Mom”—or “Dad,” as the case may be. Those other little things, the ones that bug you, the saying goes, “Life is short—“

You fill in the rest while I go straighten out that picture, try to tame that wild hair on the side of my head and check this “Smile-breaks” for naughty commas before “ands” that don’t belong there. The flat whipped cream? That’ll have to wait ’til I order my next sundae. If I’m lucky, the whipped cream will be fluffy and the ice cream beneath it will be smooth and flavorful. Just a little thing. . .

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