We live in a time of lofty ambitions. We live in a time of sweeping change. But many things big and disruptive — I am learning — come about through something quite small.

Like my switch from being an English major with a job in publishing, to getting a Master’s in Comp Sci and loving a career in technology. It was because we had gotten trapped by a hurricane during our honeymoon, of all things, and I remember whispering to myself, “If we get out of this, I am going to follow what I want to do.” Which meant leaping into something that didn’t traditionally align to my background.

A little thing. But I followed it. And here I am.

Here I am coming home from a conference where I stated passionately: In order to go big, you often have to start quite small. The opportunity for automation is huge, starting with the simplest of tasks where the savings of one minute, and then another, and then another, start to make a big difference. But so much of what we are doing is so new and changing so fast, that we might be leaping into solutions before we totally understand what we must do. We are, at the root, very physical beings that require collaboration for our thoughts and experience through a wide range of senses which can give us feedback in many ways, sometimes unquantifiable ways as of now. So starting quite small with a bot, a machine learning process, or any other form that augments our intelligence, gives us that time to control, apply, learn, and move on with some knowledge of why and how it can be bigger, and better.

Sometime you don’t know why, but you know that you must fight and protect against the unknowable. At the same conference, I stated passionately how we all must lean in to do our part in cyber security. It is a peculiar irony that digital viruses, like bio viruses, can be so powerful by wreaking havoc with small multiplications run amok. Sometimes in these cases the structural compromise happens so subtly and damages so quickly that once discovered, whether digital or biological, you hope to kill it but in the meantime, do everything you can to contain it, and slow it down.

Beware the virus. The smallest of things…that becomes our undoing.

Which leads to where I am today. Sitting in an airport, waiting to fly home from said conference.

My days were spent discussing and planning for those big things: automation; artificial intelligence; cyber security.

But my nights were different. You see, my mother, my role model of smart and working woman and independent decision maker, is sick.

The kind of we-don’t-know-what-will-happen-we-only-know-that-we-must-fight kind of sick, and when you are far away, every small thing that is between you and them makes it worse.

You plan to be there for them and be as much a part of the fight that you can, but there are also miles, and responsibilities, and schedules and bills and the shortage of time. And never, never, never can you waste your energy with emotion.

So my brother and I, in the fight together, have begun a ritual. It’s a little thing but it helps. We call it ‘small victories.’

“Ok,” I say, “let’s talk about what happened today.” And we summarize, not what DIDN’T work but what DID work. A food she can eat. A drug she can keep down. Who came to visit. What made her happy. What gave my Dad a few moments of peace.

We recite, out loud and within, how lucky we are to have each other, the family, so many supportive friends. I tell him how amazing he is and what a quiet warrior Daddy is and how I will be there soon. And I talk to them, my Mom and Dad, savoring the sound of their voices, listening to tiny nuances: are they tired, are they happy, can We experience this part of the day together. And this holds us, like so many pebbles against a storm, forming a barrier one piece at a time, so that we can keep going, because we don’t know how much time we have, and how much road we need to travel.

It is a small candle of hope.

Then it happened, sitting in the airport. A stray thought, the simplest of revelations. And it became my undoing.

Mommy I miss you.

I miss you because I wish I was there to hold your hand and remind you of how you taught me to be strong and that the family will be our strength and that we will kick this in the teeth together.

I miss you because you are being tough, and Daddy is being brave, and my little brother is there for you with everyone behind him and no one behind him, and I can’t be there to be sure he doesn’t cry at night.

I miss you because as a family we always solved things with knowledge, and now we don’t know what will happen, and no amount of knowledge in the world will change how we feel.

I miss you. I love you. I’m scared.

And that is when the tears came.