I don’t believe in the idea that one person can change the world. As a kid being raised in the suburbs of Detroit, I never had a chance to meet any celebrities- the people whose books I had read or whose faces I had seen on the covers of magazines in the grocery store. No one came to visit the industrial cities that cover the flat surface of Michigan, and- it seemed to me- no one ever came from there either. Nelson Mandela was born in South Africa, Mother Teresa was from Macedonia, and everyone important from the United States seemed to either live in California or New York City. I was worlds away from these people, and I learned to live with the fact that I would never be one of them.
While attending college, I took to spending any school break I could abroad. I went as far as my feet and backpack would take me, and I chased the shadows of the heroes I grew up worshipping. I traveled to Africa and toured the prison that held Nelson Mandela for decades. I walked through the gravestones of so many revered men and women at Westminster Abbey and glimpsed into their lives.
It was, however, my travels that led me to stop believing in the power of my heroes. In November of last year, while traveling in Mexico, I had a particularly violent encounter and when I came back, I was a completely different person. Just one, seemingly unimportant, person had radically changed my world.
I don’t believe in the idea that one person can change the world- and I learned this from my friends and family. When I came back from Mexico and could barely handle the chores of day-to-day life, it took all of them to erase what one man had done.
Now, when I look back on all of my travels- at all of the time I spent following the lives of people I had never known- I realize that the truth was right in front of me all along. I saw the prison that held Nelson Mandela- and I met and learned about the many other men who were involved in the same struggle, who were held in the same prison. While visiting friends in Hungary for a month, I was welcomed by the most generous family I have ever met- people who shared what little they had with one another and with me, a foreigner whom they had never met. In all of the countries and cities I traveled to, and most especially at home, I have learned that it is not the person that makes the difference- it is the community, the people who live their lives day-to-day without the recognition that they deserve. I don’t believe that one person can radically change the world, but I think we all do, little by little, every day.
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