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Music and the Spoken Word: 'Little by little'

POSTED: October 29, 2017 8:51 a.m.
Deseret Connect/

A French proverb says that “little by little, the bird builds its nest.”

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Editor's note: “The Spoken Word” is shared by Lloyd Newell each Sunday during the weekly Mormon Tabernacle Choir broadcast.

A French proverb says that “little by little, the bird builds its nest.”

In the 1830s, the noted writer Thomas Carlyle learned this truth in a dramatic way. He had embarked on a multiyear effort to write a massive literary work on the French Revolution. Upon finishing the first volume, he gave the manuscript to his friend John Stuart Mill to read. Mill’s servant, however, mistaking the pages for trash, used the manuscript to start a fire (see “The Voracious Pen of Thomas Carlyle,” by Meredith Hindley, Humanities, March-April 2009, on neh.gov). When Carlyle learned of this blunder, he was devastated. Years of hard work had literally gone up in flames! How would he ever rewrite it?

Legend has it that one day, Carlyle saw a mason building a wall, carefully laying one brick at a time. Carlyle took new courage. He could rewrite his book, the same way he wrote it the first time — one page at a time (see Clyde E. Nichols' "Lift Up Your Eyes," published in 2011).

Like Carlyle’s book, life is a monumental, long-term work. Just about everything good in life is built little by little, brick by brick — with patience and persistence. Success, happiness, contentment and strong relationships don’t happen overnight. They take time: time to make things right, time to mend and heal, time to learn and improve.

It’s comforting to note that the great God of heaven is a God of patience and long-suffering. If he can be patient with us, we would do well to be patient with ourselves.

So we stay with it, day after day, and do our best to carry on. Whether it’s writing a book, planting a garden, overcoming a weakness or building a friendship, we keep at it. Albert Einstein said, “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer” (see "Your Daily Walk with the Great Minds: Wisdom and Enlightenment of the Past and Present," by Richard A. Singer Jr., published in 2006). Persistence and patience will not make problems go away, but as we’ve all witnessed and experienced, they can give us the power and the hope to face our problems.

Perhaps we could all take a lesson from Thomas Carlyle, from the bricklayer, and from the bird, all of whom accomplished great things “little by little.”
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