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Small & Quick Creative Miracles- Nancy Hillis MD & Bruce Sawhill PhD

Small & Quick Creative Miracles- Nancy Hillis MD & Bruce Sawhill PhD

Small & Quick Creative Miracles


At the beginning of the pandemic, there was a period of preternatural quiet. You could hear yourself think, the din of the 21st century ebbed and birds sang and people listened to them. It lasted about ten weeks.

After that, people created coping mechanisms to fight cabin fever. One of many phenomena: Lines formed outside of bicycle shops and people would buy anything with two wheels.

Cycling was a legitimate way to get outside and get exercise at a time when sports gatherings and gyms were all deemed too risky and hence closed down.

At that point, we decided it might be a good time to sell our daughter’s old mountain bike, which may have ever been ridden about six times.


There is nothing sadder than an unridden bike, slowly sinking on deflating tires, even air molecules abandoning ship. It is like sheet music tucked in a drawer, unplayed and unsung, or art covered by canvas in a dusty attic, unvisited by light and unseen by human eyes.




We put an ad in Nextdoor and got a few nibbles but nobody felt compelled to take the bike home with them. The bike went back into the garage. The pandemic ebbed and flowed. We did other things.

Last week, two years after the events described above, in a short-lived paroxysm of organizational obsession, we decided to do something about that sad little blue bike.

In the mass fickleness of public sentiment, now it was almost impossible to sell a bike. People were too busy overwhelming the airlines and hotels and restaurants all over the world, ricocheting around like ants on amphetamines, distributing lost luggage planet-wide.

So we gave up on selling it and resolved to take it to a charity as a donation. 


A Tale Of Woe


Not one minute after that decision, a person on Nextdoor wrote a tale of woe, describing her heartbroken eight-year-old daughter who had just had her first and only bike stolen.

There is an extra level of hell beyond the nine described by Dante for such thieves. 

I thought that instead of giving to an anonymous charity, why not give the bike to a real live breathing person. So I wrote and said that our daughter’s abandoned bike might be just the ticket for the bikeless daughter. 

The mother and daughter duo showed up Saturday morning to look at the bike. Pretty soon the daughter’s eyes were wandering over the Augean Garage and spotted a pink sparkly treasure, a kind of large magic wand Nancy had gotten at a performance of the Nutcracker ballet when Kimy was 6.

Nancy saw the excitement in her eyes and brought it to the shy girl and said, “Here, it’s yours!”

Clearly bikes go better with magic wands.

What I wasn’t prepared for was the outpouring of online gratitude. No fewer than 80 people wrote about how wonderful a gesture it was to gift the bike.

I was embarrassed and started wondering that perhaps people were thinking I had done all of this as a stunt, a gesture to generate social points and come across as a good guy.

But it was truly spontaneous. If I had thought about it any more, perhaps I might have been inhibited by the anticipation of some sort of disapproval. 

Last week we wrote dreams and the hero’s journey. This was about events in life that are much harder and take much longer than one anticipates, and that if one did the thought experiment of imagining being told accurately at the beginning what one’s long-ago decision would entail, the answer would’ve been a decisive “No, I’ll pass!”  This typically applies to projects such as marriage and obtaining advanced degrees.


Auspicious Moments


This event was the opposite. It was easy, spontaneous, and joyous. It generated a surprising amount of goodwill. It came and went in a flash. A happy and shy little girl took home her blue bike, which turned out was her favorite color.

But sometimes these kinds of events are as hard to come to terms with as the difficult kind. 


A Parable


There is the parable of the Drowning Man, also called Two Boats and a Helicopter.

From the website of Psychology Today in 2009, a typical telling of the story is as follows, though there are many variations circulating in numerous communities:

A storm descends on a small town, and the downpour soon turns into a flood. As the waters rise, the local preacher kneels in prayer on the church porch, surrounded by water. By and by, one of the townsfolk comes up the street in a canoe.

“Better get in, Preacher. The waters are rising fast.”

“No,” says the preacher. “I have faith in the Lord. He will save me.”

Still the waters rise. Now the preacher is up on the balcony, wringing his hands in supplication, when another guy zips up in a motorboat.

“Come on, Preacher. We need to get you out of here. The levee’s gonna break any minute.”

Once again, the preacher is unmoved. “I shall remain. The Lord will see me through.”

After a while the levee breaks, and the flood rushes over the church until only the steeple remains above water. The preacher is up there, clinging to the cross, when a helicopter descends out of the clouds, and a state trooper calls down to him through a megaphone.



“Grab the ladder, Preacher. This is your last chance.”

Once again, the preacher insists the Lord will deliver him.

And, predictably, he drowns.

A pious man, the preacher goes to heaven. After a while he gets an interview with God, and he asks the Almighty, “Lord, I had unwavering faith in you. Why didn’t you deliver me from that flood?”

God shakes his head. “What did you want from me? I sent you two boats and a helicopter.”


Small & Quick Creative Miracles


Whatever your religious or spiritual beliefs, or lack thereof, the story is about focusing on large transformative events (the big salvation) at the expense of smaller ones. 

It manifests itself in creative endeavors in various ways:

The artist who says: It only took me ten minutes to paint this, it can’t be any good. I need to work for a long time to achieve a masterpiece. I need to go back into the painting and *do* something challenging and complex to have a chance at greatness.

What happened today with the bike was easy, a small miracle,  but there’s a good chance it might be profoundly transformative to one or more people. It happened because we were open to a rapid pivot, a change of plans, a “Why not?”

Perhaps this is what Winston Churchill thought when he said, 

“Most people, when they stumble over the truth, pick themselves up and carry on as if nothing had happened.”


The lesson is to stumble with your eyes open, to listen to the birdsong amongst the din, to realize that miracles can be fast as well as slow.


With gratitude from our studio to yours,

Nancy & Bruce


P.S. We’re getting closer to releasing our newest book: The Adjacent Possible: Guidebook & Stories of Artistic Transformation. Meanwhile, nab a copy of the first book in the series: The Adjacent Possible: Evolve Your Art From Blank Canvas To Prolific Artist.



The Adjacent Possible- Book Excellence Award Winner- Art

The Adjacent Possible– Book Excellence Award Winner- Art


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