Don’t Underestimate the Littlest

In 2022, my son and I experienced two and a half broken bones. I say two and a half as after the first two visits to get x-rays, I didn’t bother going the third time—partly because we had become old hats at this, but also because this one was my bone rather than my son’s.

The first broken bone was dramatic and my fault. Early in the year, while taking a family walk around town, I encouraged my son to ring a big bell that had no rope—so you had to manually swing the clapper. He did, but didn’t get his pinky out of the way in time of the big gong. I had not experienced a broken bone in recent years (an arm when I was a kid, my nose when I was a young adult) so did not know what to do. But reading online and watching it swell made it clear that we should check it out. We did. And the diagnosis we received was, ‘Meh. It’s a little fracture, use some buddy tape, and it’ll heal fine.’

That summer, my son hit his pinky toe against the door jamb—ouch. We went again to get x-rays, but this time, while a good sprain, it wasn’t broken. Nothing to do for that other than to ice it.

But the last time happened to me. In October, my son (just 10 and under 100 pounds) and I were sparring at the karate dojo—just playing around as we like to do. But he came in fast and his heel landed on my pinky toe, and it hurt—possibly made worse by my instinctive (but too late) withdrawal of said foot.

The colors it became over the next days rivaled my son’s finger and even now it still has residual pain. Out of sheer dislike of doctors, and the fact that it was “just my little toe,” and that I had already gone several other times to the orthopedist that year (for initial and follow-up visits), I never found the resolve to go get my foot x-rayed. The osteopath I regularly visit assessed the situation a few weeks after the event and said, yeah, it was probably a hairline fracture. She then tried to release the damaged tissue around the toe as well (that much force on any tissue is going to leave some residual traumas), though truthfully, the pain levels didn’t change much for a few months longer.

Which fingers don’t matter when making a fist? (Image by Pavlofox via Pixabay)

Two Lessons

So, while my toe is still a bit tender even three months later (I don’t have a 10-year-old’s body that heals in a few months), I share these stories as they taught me two very important (even if obvious) lessons.

The first lesson is: Stay light on your toes. One of the black belts in the dojo regularly says this, bouncing up and down on the balls of his feet to emphasize his point. And to paint the picture further, he is not a young man, not a little man, and has serious hip limitations as well. And yet, he bounces away! This lesson is now fully engrained in my brain (even if not yet fully enmeshed in my body). Even when playing, one shouldn’t be so anchored to the ground.

Of course, I don’t just mean literally. Staying light on one’s toes can be applied in the figurative sense as well. The world is changing rapidly. The business community is innovating all over the place—electric everything, artificial intelligence to the point homework assignments, stories, and even video games are being written by AI, so even in a positive scenario, economic and societal disruptions are guaranteed. But of course, ecological changes are even more dramatic and will bring about disruptions that few are prepared for. So, don’t get wedded to your ways, recognize that things are changing, and that you might have to pivot quickly to keep safe, to keep your family safe, or simply to adapt to shifting times.

The second: Don’t underestimate the littlest. Now this could apply to my son: even a 10-year old can kick an adult’s ass if he’s well trained and aims for the right spots. But I’m actually referring to my pinky toe. That little toe turns out to be really important for balance, for comfort, and yes, for karate. When gripping the floor, when doing kicks (especially side kicks where you extend your pinky to help firm up the blade of your foot, which is the striking area), when simply walking, the pinky does a lot! That really surprised me as my pinkies barely touch the ground (probably too small shoes when I was a kid), so I definitely underestimated their worth. And yet, now I know, the pinky is a critical but undercelebrated member of the toe team. And I’m grateful for its regular, hardworking commitment to getting me around each day.

Same with the pinky finger—the power of the punch (and protection of the hand) is all in the pinky. If you squeeze your pinky tightly, it makes a good firm fist, if instead you squeeze with the index finger (or just generally tighten the hand), the outside part of your hand stays soft, and you’ll hurt your hand on impact.

Obviously, I’m not just encouraging you to give thanks to your littlest digits. Though I do encourage you to protect them! What I’m saying is don’t underestimate those small contributors—whether to your family’s wellbeing, your business, your organization, your church or guild, or any other community congregation you belong to. Protect and nurture those quiet contributors and offer them gratitude sometimes. Don’t wait until they’re not functioning happily to realize just how important they are! Two simple lessons perhaps, but while simple, they’re foundational—just like the contributions of the littlest.

Notice which finger makes contact with these cement blocks. Yup, the littlest. (Image from stivy73 via Pixabay)


*One more bright side: I got to see my son’s bones. That was pretty cool as I had no idea that at the end of young bones are growth plates, areas where bones are lengthening and are actually visible on x-rays.

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