The longing to make a substantial positive contribution to our world is one that burns in us and for the overwhelming majority remains a lifelong pang in our hearts. So why then don’t we do something about it? What keeps us from changing the world? Yes, you guessed it – I have figured it out- and no superpowers are needed! (Ok, I am reasonably sure that I am not the first one to figure this out, but that is another story.)
In one of the most recent of my numerous self-studies, which I refer to as “days of my life”, I had an epiphany that I want to share. About two weeks ago, as I was closing out my morning devotion, I prayed that I would have the opportunity to change the world. Literally, those were my words. With that done, unsure of what grand opportunities would arise, I carried on with the rest of my day and went out to get the mail from my postbox.
Among the letters was an envelope addressed to a completely different person on a completely different street with a name that was barely legible and completely unfamiliar to me. The zip code was the same as ours. The envelope was hand addressed with the cracked, jagged penmanship that often comes with very old age. Judging from the sender’s old German name, I was quite sure that she must be from a few generations past. At first I was annoyed with the careless postman, who had committed the oversight. I planned to drop the letter into one of the public postboxes from which it would be returned to the sender, presumably an elderly woman named Adelheid. For some reason, I began to think about the letter and suddenly Adelheid was a grandmother who had taken great care and effort to select beautiful stationary, write a birthday letter, slowly walk to the nearest post office and send it off, hopeful that it would arrive in time for the special occasion. I looked up the address that I could decipher from the envelope, typed it into my navigation system and drove to that location to find the addressee’s name on the doorplate. I rang the bell and left the letter on the doorstep. Every act of kindness makes the world a little kinder. No superpowers needed.
Later on the same day, I headed out the door to an appointment to meet a potential new client. Before I got in my car, I noticed a woman with a white guiding cane. She had been standing at the intersection signal light down the street for some time and attempted several times to step onto the street. She shrank back each time, aware of the oncoming cars. Despite the light’s acoustic signal the blind woman seemed unable to decipher when it was safe to walk onto the street.
There were people waiting for the bus just a few meters away from the blind woman. Why did no one move to help the blind woman cross the street?! Since my appointment was only a few miles away, I had not planned much extra time and needed to be on my way to arrive on time. As I jogged down the street in my high-heeled pumps, which were designed for some purpose other than walking and definitely not running, again, I was slightly annoyed. I hastily crossed the street and asked the woman to allow me to guide her across the street. She agreed and sighed in relief. When we had arrived on the other side, the woman thanked me and said, “I have no idea what happened. I usually don’t have any problems, but today, something was different. I am so glad you were there to help me.” Yes, so was I. Every act of love makes you and the world more lovable. Again, no superpowers needed here.
When I asked for an opportunity to change the world I was thinking on a grander scale, the kind that might require superpowers, and that ego trip is exactly what keeps me and so many people from being the change they want to see in the world. That was my epiphany! Helping and being of service to others are core values for me and I have always been involved in philanthropic work. In fact, a few weeks ago I was again recognized by the city for my community contributions in one of the Berlin’s urban hotspots and yet, on this particular day through Adelheid’s letter and the blind lady, I became keenly aware that there are so many more unspectacular yet meaningful opportunities to make a difference in the world today and every day. Maybe you are thinking, “Hey lady, dropping off a misdirected letter and helping someone cross the street is NOT changing the world.” Maybe you are right, but I have a feeling that Adelheid and the blind lady would agree with me.
Seriously, if you have the opportunity to free a country from oppression, to save 100,000 lives with one heroic deed, end world hunger, cure cancer, create an empire that provides thousands of joy or open a school where thousands of poverty-stricken blind children can get a free education, by all means seize it. Make it happen! I am just saying, while you are waiting for your big coup, don’t overlook the opportunities to change the world in your own zip code, one small gesture at a time.