“Isn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back, everything is different…”
Whether or not you recognize these words, there’s a good chance you’ve seen them before. In fact, there’s a good chance you’ve seen them multiple times. This quote is all over the Internet and available to purchase on various items. The reference is always to C.S. Lewis and, sometimes more specifically, his book Prince Caspian.
Reading this quote recently brought two thoughts to my mind: 1. Those really are some meaningful words worth pondering and 2. I wonder if C.S. Lewis actually wrote them.
Let’s work through the second thought first. In no way am I questioning Lewis’ authoritative use of language to form some of the most impactful quotes our language has seen. His books are full of great wisdom, and he often shares it in wonderfully concise, memorable snippets that work perfectly for sharing with others. I actually own a hefty volume made up solely of quotes from Lewis’ various texts, organized by topic, and it’s remarkably easy to just get lost in his words.
But still, I wonder if Lewis wrote these particular words. You see, when I searched for this quote online I could not find any specific reference to a location in the book (for all you students out there, this is why your teacher requires page and edition numbers in bibliographies). I found countless sites claiming these words as his, with no more information. So I pulled out my book of Lewis quotes. Surely, such a well-known and meaningful quote would be found in its pages, complete with more information on the original text. But the words were not to be found anywhere in the book (and don’t call me Shirley).
Finally I found a blog post declaring this quote to be a fake, all but confirming my concerns. To be honest, I have not taken the time to comb the texts of Prince Caspian and find absolutely truth either way, but based on my experience with Internet quotes I tend to believe the claims of the person strongly advocating I won’t find it. After all, nowhere else have I been able to track down a specific place in the book, and my hefty book of Lewis quotes left it out as well.
But whether or not Lewis wrote these words, I think the question further illustrates their insight. Day by day nothing changes, yet somehow you reach a point when you look back and find that everything changed. There was a time when you had to search the text of a piece to find a quote, confirm it and share. Somewhere along the way people began creating quotes search sites complete with thousands (or millions) of “famous quotes” on a variety of topics. Etsy sellers crafted intricate decorations bearing these meaningful words and their authenticity became common knowledge. But so often we find that common knowledge is anything but.
Perhaps one of the most entertaining examples of this is John Green, author of several recent novels including The Fault in Our Stars and Paper Towns. For years a quote was attributed to Paper Towns, and it became so abundant online that he, having written the book several years ago and not remembering every single word he either did or did not include, assumed he wrote it. In fact, his website began selling posters bearing the quote. Unfortunately, the words were not his. Instead they belonged to a 13-year-old girl named Melody Truong. When John discovered the issue, he explained the situation publicly, paid Ms. Truong the royalties she deserved and sought to clarify the mistake. You can read more about that here.
I also found this issue with quotes attributed to A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh. Countless “quotes” from the books are available for purchase as part of Pooh-themed decorations, but many are paraphrases at best. Maybe it’s just the writer in me, but when I know something being sold as a quote is really a very broad paraphrase, it’s almost like fingernails on a chalkboard.
So at this point I’m not sure who to credit with the quote listed at the top of this page. But I find myself drawn to it over and over again. Because it is true. Each day we go about our lives very much the same way as the day before. It seems as if nothing is different. Occasionally we have a big decision or significant life change. But if we really think about those moments, they are often much smaller when placed in context. Every step we take is based on the previous step that brought us to that point. When we make one of those “big decisions” that may be different from what we would have done two years ago, that’s actually more a reflection of our subtle changes over the past two years that we’re just now seeing in action.
We tend to think of our lives based only on the big moments. We neglect to think about the impact of each day and the focus of our thoughts and efforts. But just like a one-degree shift in direction will eventually lead a boat to a destination thousands of miles from originally planned, these minor changes we often overlook reveal themselves when we look around and see that everything is different.
On its surface this is neither good nor bad. But it is important. Because while we’re only thinking about the big moments, we very well may be moving just slightly in the wrong direction to get us to the right big moment. Or in some cases it’s that slight shift that allows us to move to freedom and avoid a big disaster down the road. Either way, don’t get too far without paying attention to the small steps.
Day by day it often seems like nothing changes. But eventually you look back and see just how much things are different, from the words actually written by a famous author to where you are and what you’re doing with your life. Just make sure to give proper attribution along the way.