In life, just like in television, there seems to be themes that rise to the surface every now and again. Sometimes I don’t think I always sense or recognize what they may be, and other times it is like someone is hitting me over the head with them.
This past week or so has been a time where I have to keep rubbing that same spot because, man, is it ever clear what this “episode’s” theme would be: making a difference.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this is the message floating around in my life right now, considering today would have been my dad’s 61st birthday. That guy was certainly one who knew how to make a difference. And nearly six years after his death, my family and I are still learning about the impact he made on people’s lives.
I give both my dad and mom most of the credit for my drive to do the same in my own life, to make a difference in my little corner of the world. Sometimes, though, I get so busy with the minutiae of life that I forget about that mission, or I tell myself that I’m just too busy to step outside of my own world to make an impact for others. I get this mindset that it’s only the grand gestures that really make a difference.
Part of that may be that when I had initially planned my life out, I didn’t picture myself with a husband, two kids and living in Evansville at 34. Right now, in that plan, I am living somewhere in Africa or Southeast Asia with my husband, whom I’d met during my travels post-Peace Corps, and we are talking about the possibility of kids (Stella and Oliver, we’d name them). We would of course raise them there. I work as an international correspondent covering social justice issues.
That’s a life full of grand gestures, one I was on track for — serving in Bangladesh as a Peace Corps volunteer at 23. But my “perfect plan,” like all plans really, didn’t go perfectly. I got very ill during my service and was medically evacuated home where eventually I was diagnosed with a heart condition that necessitated a pacemaker. Life took a different path — my post Peace Corps travels included the tropical and exotic destinations of Alabama and Louisiana rather than Bali and Nepal. While I didn’t get to stay in a tiki hut or do some peak climbing, I did meet my husband and realize that this path was the one I was intended for all along.
But in this current life I often feel it’s not possible to make much of a difference. Then, sometimes I have weeks like these last few, and I’m quickly reminded of the impact that each of us can have, even in the smallest of ways.
As a journalist, you don’t often hear from readers unless they are unhappy. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the day-to-day of doing our job — reporting and writing your stories — that we forget that you guys are reading them.
But every once in a while, we get one of those treasured things — a positive comment, a sign that someone was impacted in some way by something you wrote. I made them smile. I made them aware of an upcoming concert they are now attending. I alerted them to a program that will really benefit them. Way to go, me!
Sometimes those signs are even bigger. Last week a fifth-grade teacher reached out to me, saying she was touched by a story I wrote in August about an Evansville native, now living outside of St. Louis, trying to raise funds for a service dog to help with the PTSD he suffered after six military deployments in seven years.
Before that August story, the soldier had raised $400. Since the publication of the story, more than $10,000 has been raised toward his $15,000 goal. That story made a difference. It made people such as this Highland Elementary teacher and the dozens of others who donated aware of this soldier’s need.
The teacher, Barbara Lynn, shared the story with her students, who were moved to do something. They’ve started a coin drive — underway through Tuesday if you’d like to contribute — with a goal of pushing the soldier past his goal. It was so invigorating for me to talk to those students. I just got this note from Mrs. Lynn: “It feels to the students like they are changing the world — at least part of it. I am grateful beyond belief for the chance to work with you.”
Thanks for the reminder, life, about how I still can make a difference — how everyone can. And thanks, Dad, for instilling in me the desire to leave my corner of the world a better and happier place.