“The skin of my forearm rubbed so raw it all peeled off,” he said. “But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get up.”
Ed slowly rolled the sleeve of his denim shirt back until I could see the discolored skin that had scarred his forearm. I was sitting in the quiet living room of an elderly couple I had just met, swapping stories. Ed had these thick glasses that made his eyes seem large and soft as he told his story from the rocking chair across from me. His wife had her hand on my knee, listening and interjecting every once in awhile.
“I wasn’t much help,” she said. “I didn’t know what to do. The neighbors were gone. I couldn’t get him up from where he had fallen. So I went out to the road and started waving my arms, ya know? People musta thought I was a crazy old woman.”
I tried to picture it, how terrifying it would be to be her at that moment. Her husband was down in the backyard, bleeding and stuck, and her frail frame of no use.
“People just kept on driving. Off to their business, I guess. But then, someone stopped. This woman got out of her car and helped me get him up. Then she took us to the hospital.”
Ed smiled a little. “Now she checks up on us every Wednesday afternoon. Every single one. You cannot tell me there aren’t good people in the world.”
I feel a smile spread over my own face as well, silently thanking the woman who stopped. For even just a few minutes, I felt that I could hold on to the beauty of what it means to be a human being—to take care of each other. But after Ed and Alma had finished their tale and bade me goodnight, I couldn’t help but sit in their spare bedroom and ask myself…
Would I have stopped?
Or would my busy life have kept my eyes on the road instead of seeing the desperate woman on the side of the road screaming for help?
A Rube Goldberg Machine
In the sixth grade, my science class had to create a contraption that used a series of complicated events to fulfill a simple task. My machine had a softball rolling down two metal pipes, hitting a wooden stake that triggered a catapult that threw trash across the room and into the trashcan. It was pretty awesome, I must say, even though my dad did most of the work.
It’s called a Rube Goldberg machine. Or more simply, a chain reaction. And what I have come to realize is that life is a series of very complicated interactions that build off of each other and create a result. Each of us makes up a part of that series of events. We are each a chapter in a very long and very complicated novel.
Here is the kicker: we are all extremely vital pieces to that story. Just like in a Rube Goldberg Machine, if you take one chapter out of the book or one piece out of the contraption, the entire storyline or intended result goes to hell.
Every day this summer, I woke up and I went to work. I thought that what I was doing didn’t matter all that much. Every day, people came into the bakery where I worked and ordered from my register and interacted with me, and they thought that what they were doing was just getting breakfast or lunch and didn’t matter much. But guess what? The words they said to me had the ability to make or break my day. The words I said to them had the ability to ensure they were excited to take on their lives or be in a bad mood for the rest of the afternoon.
We have power in the lives of the strangers around us. The conversations we have with friends can alter futures. Our attitudes, our treatment of people, can be seen and absorbed by others and create a chain reaction of events.
What may seem to be an everyday routine of yours is vital, and it is vital because there is an opportunity in it. Even the mundane, even the trivial, even the smallest of tasks can mean something important to the world around us today. The question then lies in whether or not we choose to see the importance of our role.
Be in the business of caring
Most of us, me as guilty as the next person, have a pretty dreary view of society. We complain on social media about how much we hate people, how “stupid people” seem to control the conversation. We feel powerless most of the time because we have lost our hope in humanity.
Why should we care when everything is so effed up, anyways? And could the decisions we make actually change anything, really?
There are a lot of days working, or grabbing some groceries, or hitting class, or spending time with some friends, where I have felt like this. I didn’t want to care. I didn’t want to have to interact with my peers or the person in the aisle next to me because it not only seems pointless but also annoying. Because going out of my way for someone else takes a lot of effort.
There in lies the problem. What if one of the biggest tragedies in our seemingly dark and slimy world today is that we have lost interest in kindness?
If we believed that what we say matters, the questions we inquire matter, the people we help or don’t help matters, this world would be a far different place. The faces we pass on the street, the bodies we squish next to on the bus, and the humans we come into contact with are our neighbors. Every single one of us has been in pain, has lost something, has had good days and bad. Every single one of us wants someone to listen, someone to care. Every single one of us has the potential to change our world by choosing to be kind, to be helpful, to rise above the dark we seem to be so blinded by.
Because that’s just it: creating change in our world doesn’t have to be a big momentous organization’s job. The news doesn’t have to be dominated by those who wish to devastate, tear down, wreak havoc, and destroy.
That is what Ed and Alma’s story convinced me of. One woman choosing to help a couple in need and continue to care for them not only changed their lives and hers, but now mine as well. Maybe even yours. A revolution can start with just one person, just one life.[clickToTweet tweet=”If we believed the people we help or don’t help matters, this world would be a far different place.” quote=”If we believed the people we help or don’t help matters, this world would be a far different place.”]
Brighten your corner
I suppose I am the typical twenty-something. When someone asks me what I want to do with my life, I reply, “I want to change the world.” The thing is, the world isn’t changed in a moment. I cannot take on all of the darkness at once, battling AIDS, cancer, hunger, death, war. But the truth is this: we have been given a corner. A little sphere of influence. A piece of this world.
I’m not sure if I can change the world, but I know that I can change my world. My world desperately needs me to. My world desperately needs me to care about my fellow man or woman, even if they don’t care back.
Because guess what? Society doesn’t do that. Society isn’t telling you to help your neighbor. They are telling you to look after yourself, to get ahead, to go it alone because that is easier. If we let that idea dominate, nothing will ever change. If we let that idea permeate, it will just be about us—a small and sad existence.
No. Hell no. Let us be different. Let us care, even if it is too much. Let us start conversations that matter. Let us be late to our meeting because we stopped when no one else would. Let us be polite in the worst of moods, to think of others first. Let us be real with one another.
Take a chance and pay it forward today. Buy the stranger behind you a cup of coffee. Smile at every person you meet at work. Ask the guy on the side of the road if he needs his battery jumped. Start that painful conversation with your best friend that needs to happen. Help your neighbor with their groceries.
Be watching—there are people who need you.