While looking for books at Foyles, I happened to stumble upon a little book called The Little Big Things. It was the cover that drew me, as well as the sub-title of the book: A young man’s belief that every day can be a good day. I picked up the book and read the inner flap and the rear flap and immediately bought the book.
The Little Big Things, as I found out later, was declared the most inspirational memoir of the year 2017 in the UK. It is written by Henry Fraser, who at the age of 17, suffered a mishap while on a holiday in Portugal, rendering him paralyzed shoulder down.
The book covers his journey from that horrific accident to his miserable state of being, to having that eureka moment, to being able to recover and ultimately becoming an artist and a motivational speaker, inspiring millions of people. It is a fairly easy read, quick to get through, and while it may seem that way, the book has some huge ideas of how to deal with life’s hardships.
At the heart of the book is Henry’s belief that ‘every day can be a good day,’ no matter how big or little obstacles may seem to be.
There is a beautiful foreword by J.K. Rowling who shares that Henry is “one of the most remarkable people I’ve ever met.” (page 1). She addresses a very real point of how we humans are more fragile than we think, and Henry was not prepared for what happened to him. However, Henry, as Rowling says, is “remarkable, not for what happened to him, but for what he makes happen.” (page 4).
One Brief Moment
Henry talks about being in Portugal with his friends, where they had a ball of a time. It was on the fifth day that he, as he had done hundreds of time before, jumped off the cliff into the clear waters below, only this time, he hit his neck and crashed his head on the seabed. He became “lifeless,” “scared” and “helpless,” and thought this was it. He’s dead. However, he is rescued and is taken to the hospital, and his parents are informed in the UK. In the hospital, as he faced a series of tests, it becomes apparent that he is paralyzed shoulder down. At the mere age of 17, this news can seem devastating, almost as if a death sentence has been pronounced. Henry, however, shares how with “the love of others, whoever they are, you can face the darkness and look through to the other side.” (page 20).
The Little Big Things
Henry is transferred to a hospital in the UK and while being here, paralyzed, he shares how life felt useless. These were his dark times, till he came to a point where he started reading the cards and messages his friends and loved one gave him. “I would read and reread and soak up all the positive messages I was receiving,” says Henry (page 38). However, it was one quote from St. Francis of Assisi that really struck a chord with Henry and it goes like this: “Start by doing what’s necessary, then do what’s possible and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” This little quote planted a seed in Henry and he thus began to reframe his thought process. Another message that prompted to rethink his situation was through a friend who told him to “look to you who are inside, and recognize your achievements throughout these past few weeks.” (page 40). Henry soaked up all these positive messages and talks about how he was driven by everyone’s kindness to begin his path towards recovery. In other words, these little messages became big things for him.
Defeat is Optional
Henry shares of another patient in the hospital, who suffered from the same paralysis as Henry, of how his attitude was different from Henry’s: he was more cheery and positive. While lying in his bed, Henry had begun to start being more grateful for the little things: fresh air, the sun, the love of those close to him, the friendships (page 45) and as he started to realize all the things he was grateful for, a paradigm shift had begun to take place in his mind. However, it wasn’t all easy for him as he struggled to get off the ventilator (and failed to breathe on his own initially) and the helplessness of his situation (going through his Why Me? phase).
In one moment (isn’t it incredible how it is these little moments that can truly define our lives and take us to another place altogether?), Henry has his eureka moment as he says: “Something in my mind turned and a calmness descended, and I had a clarity of thought that there was no point in being sad or angry, and that I had no one to blame for what happened and that I may as well just get on and face what was coming. I’d never had time for self-pity and it wasn’t going to become my friend now.” (page 59). In one little moment, Henry takes a conscious decision that defeat is optional, and he will use all his strength to overcome his situation.
Accept and Adapt & Be Grateful
These two chapters are my favorite in the book. Henry talks about how he makes an effort to accept his situation and then adapt to his new life. What allowed him to accept his fate and move on was to set manageable and realistic goals (page 63). One such goal was to get off the ventilator– which he does eventually. As he says, “focusing on the right things in life is so important.” (page 70). I thought this was such a brilliant technique in helping us accept our reality, instead of denying it, and as Henry says, “I had concentrated on what I could do, not what I couldn’t do, and in that way I had made some significant progress.” (page 76).
In the subsequent chapter, Henry further builds upon his goal setting and working on achieving them. The key point is that his goals were realistic and achievable. These little goals allowed him to work towards his bigger goals. Along the way, he maintained his attitude of gratitude which kept his dreams alive and gave him many reasons to stay alive. Ruth, Henry’s helper, is hired to help him with his daily tasks. She says something so pertinent, that it helped Henry stay more focused. “Henry, if you can do A and B, but can’t do C, it doesn’t mean you can’t do D, E and F.” (page 91).
Pushing Myself & The Art of Striving Gives Meaning
As Henry develops more strength and hope, he sets larger goals and challenges himself. He stresses again on how he kept his focus on the things he could do, and not what he couldn’t do. “I’d come to see that it is the art of striving that gives life meaning, that the greater the challenge ahead of me, the more alive I felt.” (page 100). Taking in the kindness from everyone around him, Henry began to take his life one day at a time, and spent each think being thankful for “every single day!”
In the next chapter, Henry works his way to give his life meaning. Overcoming his fear of public speaking, Henry makes the effort of speaking to others, to inspire and help them, to motivate and encourage them. He also takes up painting, by holding the paintbrush in his mouth, he begins to paint, and eventually holds an exhibition too. “This much I do know: adversity has given me a gift; enabled me to discover an ability that I would never have known otherwise known existed. And for that, I am deeply grateful.” (page 140).
Every Day is a Good Day
“Acceptance gives you permission and power to move on, and once you move on, you can adapt.” (page 144).
“Being grateful is about looking around, opening our eyes to all the little things we might take for granted.” (page 146).
He addresses a valid concern that others have: “Given your situation, you must have down days.” Henry answers this question in the most beautiful of ways and merely ends his answer by saying, “What do I have to be down about? I have so much to be happy for!” (page 158). “The past has happened and cannot be changed; it can only be accepted. Life is much simpler and much happier when you always look at what you can do, not what you can’t do. Every day is a good day.”
I cannot stress how inspired I was with Henry’s story. He has gone on to achieve so much in life and has certainly encouraged me to reframe my own life’s situation. I have clearly imbibed the Accept and Adapt philosophy and maintaining an Attitude of Gratitude. I have seen these two principles work and have seen much how much happier and simpler my life has become.
Henry Fraser, thank you so much for being a huge inspiration and for motivating me to see life through such positive lens!