In the short story “A Small, Good Thing,” written by the late Raymond Carver, a couple confronts a baker hired to make a birthday cake for their young son. The son, sadly, has recently died due to complications arising from a car accident, and the family, distraught, completely forgets about the cake. The baker calls and calls, harassing the couple over payment, who finally, in a fit of rage, drive to the bakery early one morning to demand the baker leave them alone as they grieve. When they arrive, the baker, seeing their haunted, distraught looks, invites them into his bakery wordlessly, asks them to sit down, and begins feeding them breakfast. Fresh baked good after fresh baked good, they eat. They all sit in silence. The end.
The baker has, as the title implies, done a small, good thing in simply offering his fellow man and woman a little care and compassion during a time of terrible tragedy. It’s a minor comfort. It’s something the baker can do. He knows he can’t fix the deep unhappiness or solve anything. But still, he does something.
Right now, we’re all facing a terrible tragedy of racial intolerance and inequality. It’s a tragedy of global proportion, a horrible car crash that’s been unfolding in slow motion for hundreds of years. It’s overwhelming in its scope. It has claimed thousands of lives, and ruined countless more. Many of us have wondered what to do. Some have turned inward, reading and reflecting, hoping to understand our own relationship to race and improve it. Others of us have volunteered, given our time. Element has made a small donation to the Equal Justice Initiative (https://support.eji.org/give/153413/#!/donation/checkout).
None of it is enough. None of it makes up for or in any way compensates for what’s already been lost and the people already damaged. Among all of our gestures, each adds up to no more than a small, good thing. And we know that. But sometimes, when faced with something overwhelmingly tragic, we retreat to the minor human gesture and hope to take some measure of comfort there.
We pledge to do more. To continue our own efforts to be better. Will it be enough to matter? Maybe not. Will anyone notice or care? Perhaps not. But clearly, there are conversations we all should have been having long ago. And people who should have been heard. Those who’ve felt invisible absolutely must be seen. We’re not naïve to think we can solve all those problems or right all those wrongs.
We’re going to do a small, good thing. And then another. And another. And we encourage you to find your own small, good thing, and do that, too. It’s something.
It’s a start.