A Few Small Things Brought Together


I. We woke up to some bad news yesterday in Minnesota; our Timberwoves basketball coach, Flip Saunders, died of complications of cancer treatment. He was 60.

He was too young, he had a very treatable kind of cancer (Hodgkin’s Disease). He had his share of tough seasons with the Timberwolves but he had just in the past few months pulled together a team he’d waited for his whole career.

His life is celebrated for the great things he accomplished, of course, but also for the people he brought together: family, basketball players and coaches and owners, fans. He was the kind of person, according to the many articles about him in the local paper, for whom people had only good words.

I would like to be known as a person for whom no one has a bad word.

II. I saw two movies this past week, Bridge of Spies and The Martian. I liked each very much. I think both stories have more to do with small things brought together than individuals accomplishing great things.

In Bridge of Spies, American lawyer James B. Donovan (played by Tom Hanks) reluctantly takes on the defense of Soviet spy Rudolph Abel. Together, theirs is a big story, one played out on an international stage. But together, too–as simply two–theirs was a small story of principled people doing what they thought was right when it might have been a lot easier to do otherwise.

One of my favorite parts was when Abel called Donovan “standing man,” a reference to a friend of his family’s who, in a horrific incident from Abel’s childhood when everyone was being beaten by police for poorly understood infractions, just kept getting up again. Punched down. Got up. Punched down. Got up.

Standing man. Standing men: James Donovan, Rudolph Abel. Flip, too.

I would like to be known as a person for whom no one had a bad word. And as a standing woman.

III. In The Martian, astronaut Mark Watney (played by Matt Damon) is presumed dead and left behind on Mars when the rest of his crew makes an emergency departure for Earth. He is devastated, of course, but then through a series of small things (including “science-ing the shit” out of just about every presumably insolvable problem) makes sense of the time he has, if not sense of the situation he’s in. In a similar, although less front-and-center way, the Mars mission’s commander Melissa Lewis (played by Jessica Chastain) takes a series of small steps to defy every obstacle in her way to do what she needs to do, too (trying not to be a spoiler, here.)

Great things accomplished, but it’s the small steps that test us.

I’d be happy for the purposeful small steps, for the legacy of kindness, for the reputation as a standing woman.

Looks like I’d better get on that.




  1. Well said, as always, Donna. I enjoyed watching Flip many times over the years and thought he had a certain grace court side that I’m sure crossed over in his non-public life. He will be missed by many.

    And I loved The Martian both the book and the movie. Matt Damon was perfectly cast and not too hard on the eyes even toward the end without a shower!

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