One of the truths associated with living in a large city is the implicit feeling of anonymity. Having spent the first 25 years of my life in Chicago, I became accustomed to being one small piece of a huge community.
Other factors can contribute to this feeling of insignificance. You could be part of a large grade school, high school, college, or university. You might be one employee in a corporation of many thousands. And depending on the circles which you occupy, your life may never be more than one small piece of a huge conglomerate.
What is the lesson to be learned from all this anonymity? The fact is that any one of us has the ability to become an important contributor to the world, within a myriad of contexts. Whether you do it by finding something, creating something, fixing something, developing something, or merely improving on a commodity that already exists, each one of us has the capacity to be important or famous.
Anne Frank was a German-Dutch diarist who was sixteen when she was killed at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Her father survived the war and found her diary when he returned to Amsterdam and recovered her memoir. But seventy-five years later, Anne’s writing has been the subject of a widely read book as well as numerous plays and films.
Our current pandemic has been the incentive for numerous everyday people to make their marks by doing remarkable acts of kindness and generosity. We have seen young people packing and delivering lunches to children in their cities of towns who don’t have food or the money to buy it. We have also seen celebrity chefs who have organized huge soup kitchens that welcome impoverished locals to dine.
You could make a case that other individuals were noteworthy for both good and evil. The world always recognizes the names of Mother Teresa, Moses, Abraham Lincoln, Stalin, and Hitler. Regardless of their upbringing, wealth, or education, all of these humans can be said to have made indelible marks on the planet’s history.
If we believe that we are incapable of making a mark on our civilization, we can be quite certain that we will always live down to our expectations. While I don’t fantasize about changing the people around me or further with my writing, I always hope that it occurs. In the classroom, I always tell my students that they can be or achieve anything that they choose, as long as they believe it consistently and strongly.
In these times of uncertainty, upheaval, and instability, we need as much of the “change the world” mentality as we can encourage. Sizes of the action or world are both irrelevant. It is simply the desire to do good works that is crucial. Shalom.