This I Believe

Joy - Highgate, Vermont
Entered on May 9, 2007

I believe in the power of goodness.

Growing up the youngest daughter of altruistic parents in northern Vermont, I learned the importance of a single person’s decisions and the effects that those decisions had on the environment, the people who I shared the world with, and the animals that I loved so much. I saw my mother boycott companies whose values she questioned and truly follow the old New England adage, “Wear it out, use it up, make do or do without.” She sewed my sisters and I clothes, volunteered on committees she believed in, worked at a local co-op because she believed what the co-op stood for. We raised our own animals for eggs, milk, and wool, ground our own wheat to bake bread, and composted before it was the cool thing to do. When I was nine years old, I became a vegetarian because I realized that an animal had to die so that I could eat some of my favorite meals. I was only allowed to go trick-or-treating if I carried the little change box for Unicef with me. I was encouraged to give generously to others and to tithe 10% of my allowance.

Still, throughout the years I felt that I wasn’t doing enough. I would listen to the news or read a newspaper and be filled with so much despair, so much desolation. Against so much cruelty and hatred, how could I make a difference? What was my one tiny drop of kindness against a sea of indifference and hostility?

I still gave intermittently to charities. I worked in Human Services and tried to be kind and respectful to all those I met, but I couldn’t help feeling that it was all rather pointless. In the face of so much negativity, I felt overwhelmed.

I talked to my mother, a long time volunteer who gave selflessly of herself for as long as I have been her daughter, and before. I asked her how she did it, and why? Do the small things really matter? In a world that feels so scary and cruel, was there any hope that I could make a difference? My mother looked at me and smiled and told me that of course, all the differences in the world have been made by one person. If each person did just one good thing, imagine the changes that could take place!

Later, I found this quote from Mother Theresa, “What we do is less than one drop in the ocean. But if it were missing, the ocean would lack something.” And that is how I want to live my life. A drop may be small, but it is still essential. My actions may be tiny but I will not stop moving. If I can say at the end of my life that I made one person’s life better, that I helped keep an animal to be safe, that I made the world more beautiful, then I will count myself a success in life.