When the world feels dark and indifferent, how can we add light? When I feel most helpless to make a positive difference questions arise. Is my presence on Earth making a difference to anyone or anything?
For me, life is about making the world better for ourselves and others. I recognize that the homeless need help. The teenage mom lacking in basic needs made a decision that made her life harder. The priest that denies someone access or fellowship with Jesus goes against the spirit of the Ten Commandments. The very best in me looks past the countless outrages. I don’t stand in judgment of my fellow man. My influence is not sufficient to change the path of humanity.
This May, I took care of two grandchildren, 9 and 11, for a week. Saturday afternoon, I colored with Kai. For two hours, I listened as he talked about animals and how he was a good detective. Beau, the lab, rubbed up against my leg, wanting a scratch. As we tidied up, Kai said, “Thank you for being a good amma.” A moment for the memory book. There are plenty of other moments that leave me wondering if I’ve made a difference. Fortunately, new opportunities keep sprouting like tulips in spring.
Tim recently stopped to talk to a homeless man on a walk on the Highline Canal in Denver. “He was a nice-looking man,” he told me, “and had much he wanted to tell me.” Listening and conversing with others makes the world better. I read about a shop owner who opens his store on cold nights for dogs to sleep. People like him (or her) are angels disguised as humans. Looking for what’s good instead of focusing on all that’s wrong shifts our concentration towards harmony.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s podcast “Chasing Life” episode Practicing Gratitude Pays Off (May 17, 2022), focused on practicing gratitude in everyday life. An email expressing your appreciation to someone uplifts you and others. I thought of my fifth-grade home economics teacher, a widow who let us use her shed as a clubhouse. I remember the woman who paid for my latte at a Starbucks drive-in line and a nurse at the sanatorium who tucked me in before leaving for the day. While there is no way for me to reach out to them, there are many others I can text or email. It’s impossible to overstate the impact an unexpected note of gratitude can make.
Years ago, in my childrens pediatrician’s waiting room, a young woman, holding a crying baby, pleaded with the office staff to see the doctor. They told her she had to pay $35. She didn’t have any money. I considered offering to pay but didn’t. I’ve thought of this moment many times. I can make excuses, but those are just empty words, rationalizing. Since then, other opportunities have arrived. I offered to pay for prescription glasses for a child whose father, an immigrant who spoke little English, was beside himself because he didn’t have enough money for his son’s glasses. The office staff explained that the Rotary Club would pay for it. The problem was communicating this to the father. While I’d failed the young mother and her baby, it increased my awareness of opportunities to help others. When I give a few dollars to a homeless person, I don’t predict or judge. “He’ll just spend it on drugs” is a common refrain and justification not to give. True giving has no attachment.
We are not famous or glamorous. We may feel unimportant, but we are a potential light for humanity. Light and kindness are our essences. Keeping our light burning when most of what we see and hear (TV, news, movies, social media) promotes the opposite is trying and tiring. But it’s not impossible. How we interact with others is a choice. Every time I fail to keep my light burning bright, my life grows dimmer. When I avoid negativity, complaining and judging, and concentrate on being generous in my words and actions, the light within grows warmer.
We rise by lifting others.