When I was in my mid-20s, I distinctly remember lacking any direction in my life; I knew that I could make a difference in the world and was struggling with just how to do that. Should I run for Congress? Become a writer, or a teacher? Maybe a minister, or a counselor? I wanted to big giant stage to save the world from, but had no idea how to do something like that.
Years went by, and like many dreams and goals mine morphed over time. I started to focus less on weighty issues like saving the world, and more on my family, friends, and other things in my direct sphere. But a few things have happened of late that have helped me remember that somehow, some way, we all have an opportunity to make the world a better place by doing things big and small.
Reminder 1. A few months ago, I did the typical suburban white male thing and stopped by a local Starbuck's for a $5 latte. While I was waiting, I saw a flier posted on their bulletin board about a fundraiser for a little boy in our area who has cancer, Curt White; you can read more about Curt at http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/curtwhite. I have seen a ton of similar fliers in my life, but none affected me the way this one did. There was something about his smile, and his story, that just spoke to me at that particular crack in time. Ginger and I were able to help his family out a little bit, but that's not the point: the point is that a group of total strangers, with no formal ties to each other, can and often do come together and change A world, if not THE world.
While searching for info on how to help Curt's family a little bit, I came upon another website (http://bloggersgiveback.blogspot.com/) that tries to bind bloggers together to make a small difference to people in need. I love this idea, and wonder if unschoolers, with all of their passion and creativity, couldn't somehow bond together to do something similar.
Reminder 2. I was cleaning out my desk today (nothing worrisome; just moving offices) and came upon a quote that was sent to me by my friend Jen Perch a number of years ago:
"A conventional success story is one where, with each next step, the protagonist has more money, more respect, and more possessions. I'd like to suggest an alternative success story - - one where, with each next step, the protagonist is closer to finding that spot where he's no longer held back by his heart, and he explodes, with talent, and his character blossoms, and the gift he has to offer the world is apparent."
I think that is an extremely powerful quote, particularly within the context of unschooling; for those of you going to one of the upcoming conferences, expect to hear this one again!
Reminder 3. I have always been struck at the fact that it is often the people who have the least to give, or the biggest problems, that end up sharing themselves more frequently and thoroughly than the rest of us - many times through their inherent inspiration. Here's one of my favorite recent examples, of an autistic high school basketball player who finally got a chance to play in his team's final game: http://www.fosterfriess.com/articles/20057/
Do you think he went into the game thinking "I'm going to do great and provide inspiration to parents of autistic children"? Of course not . . . he just went in, had fun, and the rest just happened. Hmmm . . .
Reminder 4. Sometimes we can change lives just by our very passions, as in this example:
Reminder 5. I joined Facebook the other day. My delay in joining shouldn't come as a surprise to those of you who know we just got a TV player and cable not that long ago. One of the hidden joys of Facebook has been the fact that I have found so many of my high school friends and classmates there. When I graduated in 1985, I essentially left town and never went back; out of a graduating class of 275, I have seen perhaps 10 since graduation, and only half of those on purpose. Just in the past 4 days, I have reconnected with 40 people from high school, but here's the really ironic thing: before I started connecting with them, very few of them were connected with each other. Now, we're all connecting, chatting, posting photos, and even getting ready to organize a reunion.
So, what does this all mean?
It has caused me to look back at my life and think about all of the times when someone made a difference for me: my father bringing me donuts when I slept out for the Grateful Dead, my grandmother serving ginger ale in a champagne glass on New Years, Shawn Pollack questioning my integrity, Jen Perch giving me that quote, Bob Hixon paying for a round of golf. All of these people had no idea they were giving me a gift, they just did what seemed and felt right to them and I took it with me for the rest of my life. In fact, I bet none of them even know what a difference they made. Small gifts like this make us who we are, and make such a tremendous difference.
I think that we all have an opportunity to make the world better, always and in all ways. We don't have to run for Congress, or join the ministry, or get our own talk show. It can be the simplest of things: saying thank you, donating your time or a toy to a cause you believe in, giving a genuine compliment, saying what needs to be said even when people do not want to hear it, hosting a funshop (hint, hint!), asking a question, giving a hug, listening a bit longer than you wanted to, getting down on the floor and playing with your kids, watching Barney for the 87th time. Making a difference comes from the heart.