While we were in church today, Abigail had a pad of paper and a pencil during the main sermon. I allow her this so that she stays quiet and focused, and possibly takes in some of the knowledge of the person at the pulpit. Being 10 is hard enough without being forced to listen to lay clergy mumble through 40 minutes of a speech that doesn’t always apply to her life.
The meeting focused on a talk by Dallin H. Oaks, about how small things impact our lives in huge ways. As the speakers finished and we sang our final song of the day, Abigail turned to me and showed me her notepad. She said, “Start on this page and then just keep going.”
Here’s what I saw:
It wasn’t just that I think my daughter is adorable and creative and talented. But I saw a connection with the images she’d drawn and the lessons that we focused on for the rest of the day.
When I think of making an impact, I think of great men and women who have changed the course of history. Ghandi, Joan of Arc, Julius Caesar. These are people who did great things, freed a lotta people (like the song says), and generally make massive change on a massive scale.
Then I look at my life. I am 39 years old. I have a nice family and a nice house. I have a nice job and have made some nice blog posts. But have I made an impact? What is the legacy I leave for my children besides a ton of unfolded laundry and a lot of words?
I am a dot in the world. Just a single point of life in a sea of living beings. I am insignificant.
And yet, as my daughter so eloquently instructed me, my small and simple life is the beginning of every greatness. A dot can be the belly button of a mermaid, the tear of a beautiful woman, the finish line of a great race. There is room for interpretation, freedom to explore. A dot is a good and wonderful place to be.
A few years ago, I was struggling with this concept. I was considering all the times I have failed – as a teacher, as a writer, as a mom.
Ya know. Like people sometimes do.
I thought about how I still haven’t written a great book, still haven’t made a million dollars. If I were to go to a high school reunion, I would have no fancy car, fancy job, or fancy accolades to impress anyone.
But then I thought of the handful of people who I have touched. Just a few, here and there. No one I would mention by name, and most of them don’t keep in touch with me. But I did good things for them and tried to make their lives better in small, simple ways.
All the little dots make a larger picture.
There is a great quote that I heard recently. It goes a little like this.
The only preparation for that one profound decision which can change a life, or even a nation, is those hundreds and thousands of half-conscious, self-defining, seemingly insignificant decisions made in private. – Senator Dan Coats, Indiana
The small things you and I do, those tiny dots on the timeline of our lives, they add up.
- A smile at someone lonely.
- Choosing to read something that builds our heart and mind rather than tear it down.
- A kindness to someone who is hurting (or hurting us).
As we make small, good decisions based in love, we build out from our simple, insignificant point, and make our lives more than what we could possibly imagine.
One is Enough
I don’t share the previous story to impress you with how “righteous” I am. Believe me. I’m just as messed up as anyone else. But I do think that true change, magnificent change is not about how many people you touch, but how well you touch them.
Would I love to write a book that changes the lives of millions? Yes. And I’m grateful that J.K. Rowling was able to do it for my generation and the ones that came after me. She built a world that gave space for joy and truth to be shared, and that’s miraculous.
But when it boils down to it, can I change the world one person at a time? I can. That’s what it’s all about. It all starts with a dot. It all starts with a single point of light. As we recognize the power that is in just the simple, small good decisions we make every day, I think we will be much happier with the lack of praise from the world. When we realize that we can build beauty all around us by simple and small means, we will be able to focus our priorities away from self-aggrandizement and towards making everyday actions and interactions meaningful and full of love.