Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does. — William James
One thing we all want is to change the world. Or at least change something in it. We want our time here to count for something, to matter. We want to make a difference.
When I decided to become a teacher–and a special education teacher, nonetheless–everyone said, “You will never have to wonder whether you make a difference.” It would be a one-way ticket to the place I wanted to be, to a place where my life would matter.
There were a few times that I was pretty sure I had a lasting effect on a student. There was the boy who went from constantly being suspended to making the honor roll. There were the kids who learned to read in my class. But, it wasn’t the Hallmark movie that I thought it would be.
Oh, there was fun, and lots of laughter. I love what I do. But it’s not like television. It’s not obvious whether I do have a lasting effect.
Just like the rest of life.
Recently, a former student and her mother approached me. This was a student I really liked, but our time together was not the stuff of after-school specials. We just enjoyed our time in class, and did schoolwork. She and her mother told me that this student was planning to go to college, to work with kids with disabilities. She wanted to help kids, as I had helped her, by believing in her.
Wow. I never would have known.
I once read that we are like the white crayon, in the box. Nobody can see where we color, nobody can see whether we’ve left a mark. Then, when you color the whole picture, you can see clearly where the white crayon has drawn. We can’t see our mark, until the picture is completed.
What we do matters. Everything we do matters. We’re leaving a mark, all the time. And somebody will see it when the picture is completed.
Lately, enough people have–many times without realizing it–said or done just the right thing, just what was needed at the time, that it has reminded me of the importance of the little things we do. I’ve told you about the couple who first introduced us to minimalism, without saying a word about it . But I would like to share with you more people who have completely rocked my world, not by setting out to “make a difference,” but by small, seemingly insignificant, deeds.
The Ski Instructor
When I was 13, I was awkward and unpopular. I had never had a boy so much as glance in my direction, and I was seriously lacking in confidence.
That year, I went on a ski trip with my church youth group. I had never skied before, so I was required to take a lesson.
Our instructor was a very attractive young man, and I was the youngest and clumsiest member of our group. He showered me with attention right away, and even sat next to me on the chair lift.
When we returned to the lodge, I was the envy of all the other girls who went on the trip. I felt like I was 10 feet tall. For the first time in my life, I had attracted the attention of a guy–and a cute one at that!
There is a very special place in Heaven for people like that man.
The Kind Stranger and the Short Order Cook
I have never told this story here before, but I used to own a red convertible. I was driving this convertible home from work, on a spring day in 2007, when I was seven months pregnant with Beanie. When I was driving past Burger King, two young girls, apparently focused on their destination rather than the opposing traffic, brought our cars from 50 to 0 in a very short amount of time. Amazingly, I saw this coming and reacted quickly enough to swerve onto the shoulder, causing our cars to bounce off of each other, rather than coming to a dead stop–this move probably saved all of our lives, or at least prevented things from being worse.
But, there I was, walking away from a horrible accident, and pregnant. Just the day before, my obstetrician had cautioned me not to do anymore bicycle riding, because falling down could harm the baby.
Needless to say, I wasn’t exactly in a calm mental state.
There were lots of bystanders, and one man approached me, after calling 911, to see if I was all right. I was out of it, then panicked about the baby, and I don’t know that I made a lot of sense. He helped me calm down and held my hand through the short time–that seemed like an eternity–while we waited for the ambulance to arrive. Things happened so quickly after they did arrive, that I never even said “Thank you,” or saw this man, who was probably a traveler just stopping in town to eat, again.
It was long after dinner time, when I was finally settled into my room at the hospital, so I sent Rob to go to the restaurant next door to fetch me a grilled cheese sandwich. He returned with the most delicious double-decker, 2-cheese creation, that the cook had made for me after Rob explained what had happened. When I remember the whole incident, I always smile when I think of that sandwich, and how particularly tasty it was, after everything.
I did go on to carry Jelly Bean to full term, and had a rather uneventful 22 hours of labor. The delivery was where it got challenging. I pushed for 2 1/2 hours, and during that entire time my nurse, Teresa, stood by my side, counting and coaching me through it. I remember, at one point, she was talking to the doctor when a contraction began, and I thought, I can’t do this without her here–what am I going to do? Luckily, she was back right away.
Generally, at hospitals, babies are born by c-section if the pushing takes over 2 hours. I credit Teresa for making Beanie’s natural delivery possible. She was there the whole time, right up until Beanie’s debut into the world, when I exclaimed that Beanie was beautiful and that I loved her. Only after the Bean and I were settled in, snuggling and nursing, did she leave, 30 minutes after shirt change time, on a holiday weekend.
When Beanie was having trouble eating solids, I brought her into the hospital to be weighed, and Teresa was at the nurses’ station. After all the babies she has seen and help deliver, she immediately recognized us, a year and a half later.
The College Professor
Before I graduated with my bachelor’s degree, I took a creative writing class, for my English minor. Up until adolescence, when my confidence took a nosedive, I had loved writing. I wrote obsessively, inventing characters who had wonderful adventures. Then, I had decided that I was no good at it, that nobody cared what I had to say, and put my notebook and pens away for years, until that class.
We had to keep a journal, and I used mine as a great brain dump. Mainly, though, I focused on telling stories about our life in Pleasant Beach Mobile Home Resort. My professor encouraged me all along, and one time, when I turned in my journal, she said, “You have a way of making the mundane things that happen to everybody, interesting.”
It was that compliment, that I had in mind when I wrote my first blog post.
People I Have Never Met In Real Life
Finally, all of the People Who Don’t Have a Lot of Stuff, whom I have met through my writing here, have inspired me to make changes, to believe that my dreams are within my reach, and to persevere. Since I have given up Facebook and started chatting with all of these people, I feel like my brain is finally running on all its cylinders! Things I’ve taken for granted my entire life have been challenged, and I am convinced that nothing is impossible.
I think that’s a lot of the reason why I’ve had a much easier time adapting to life back on land, this time, as well.