“How we live our days…is how we live our lives.” — Annie Dillard
It happened gradually over more than a decade but, as I wrote last week, I went from saying, “I want to change the world someday” to saying, “I want to heal the world someday.”
Then, I realized that it wasn’t possible for me to heal the entire world. It was only possible for me to heal my world — the people in my social circle, my neighborhood, my faith community, my medical practice, my family, the people with whom I was personally in contact. So I began to say, “I want to heal my world someday.”
But I kept waiting for something to happen in the future. Waiting to finish my degree, waiting to get a high-profile job, waiting to write a best-selling book, waiting to get my “big break,” whatever that turned out to be. I thought I would heal the world from a high, far-reaching platform.
Getting a book deal actually reinforced this idea, because everyone in the publishing world asks you about your platform. How many followers do you have on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter? How many hits does your blog get? How many times does your name appear in Google Alerts?
So I kept waiting for my platform to expand and elevate.
Over the past few years, Annie Dillard’s words have taken on new meaning, as I realized that I only have today, and if I’m waiting for something to happen in the future, I’m missing the opportunities I have TODAY to make a positive difference in the world. I came to see that practicing compassion to the people around me is like painting with the pointillism art technique. One dot at a time.
Asking a refugee woman on the train if she and her girls are okay. Paying for five cars behind me at a toll booth. Calling a friend who’s going through a hard time. Taking a meal to a family whose child is in the hospital. Writing a blog post in a tone that’s not snarky, critical or divisive. Being kind to airline employees — even after their mistake made me miss my flight.
In the moment, these things can seem like small gestures. A single dot on the canvas of my life. But I’ve realized that all these moments, all these encounters, all these gestures add up to paint a picture of my life. And when I get to the end and step back, when I can finally see the whole canvas with all the dots I’ve accumulated over the days, weeks, months and years of my life….I’ll see what my life has really been all about.
We need look no further than the past week’s headlines to see that our world is marred, hurting and, in some places, quite un-beautiful. But the good news is that we all woke up this morning and the world is still here, which means the story isn’t over, and there’s still time to make a difference.
If we all choose to paint a few kind, compassionate, constructive dots today and tomorrow and this week and this month and this year….we can restore beauty and goodness to our world. We can tell a better story. We can paint a better picture.
No one can single-handedly change the world. But I’m confident that if we work together, all the small dots each of us makes every day will coalesce into something important, beautiful and brilliant that brings healing to a hurting world.
When I started grad school 14 years ago, I told the admissions panel I was going to change the world someday.
Now, when people ask what my life is about, my answer is a little different. Now, I want to heal my world, and I want to start today.