I saw a mammoth example of small things making a big difference this time last year when my oldest son and I embarked on a Spring Break trip to New York City. My favorite site was probably the 100-year old Grand Central Terminal. It’s a magnificent building with glittering chandeliers, cathedral windows and a ceiling illustrating the zodiac…which some say was intentionally painted backwards to represent God’s view; while others think the artist just accidentally painted it wrong. Either way, it’s truly spectacular. Yet, a mere 15 years ago, this majestic piece of art was nothing but grime and filth…and almost rubble.
As one would expect, the age of the building and the nearly 750,000 visitors daily began to take a toll on the structure. The once beautiful starry night sky was literally pitch black. The massive disarray led to many proposals for destruction and replacement. Instead they opted to restore the structure. But, to prevent the problem from happening again, they needed to investigate the cause of all of that soot. At first they thought the layers of black covering the art and marble were the effects of coal and diesel from the trains, but upon further investigation, they discovered it was the result of…wait for it…cigarettes!
This 16,000 square foot building was destroyed one cigarette at a time! Now, I don’t know about you, but that blows my mind. Tiny little cigarettes, over time, wreaked havoc and nearly destroyed this century old historic monument.
The minuscule action of all those individuals smoking all those cigarettes through the years led to a near catastrophe. Now, I’m no mathematician, but if small negative actions can have a significant negative impact over time, wouldn't the opposite hold true as well? Wouldn't small positive actions also have a significant positive impact over time?
It’s true! Every small action we take can be part of the problem or part of the solution, but rest assured, it will have an impact.
This lesson wasn't lost on the restoration team at Grand Central either. They left behind a not-so-subtle 2 ft. X 1 ft. reminder in the upper corner of the zodiac. One black rectangle remains symbolizing what once was, and what will never be again, in the newly pristine, now smoke-free Grand Central Terminal.
Grand Central Terminal:
On the left is a picture of the ceiling view any typical visitor would see when looking up at the zodiac.
The picture on the right is a close-up of that very same tobacco stain whose actual size is 1 ft. x 2 ft.
In some ways, this gesture is the embodiment of this quote by Catherine Aird, "If you can't be a good example, then you'll just have to serve as a horrible warning." We all get to choose. Now, go forth and live accordingly.