I Can Make a Difference

Carol Fixman - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
As heard on the This I Believe podcast, January 25, 2016
Carol Fixman

Carol Fixman's parents taught her the importance of taking action to find solutions to life's problems. And at the end of her mother's life, Ms. Fixman put this advice to work and found that she didn't have to change the world in order to make a big difference.

Age Group: 50 - 65
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I believe in taking action to solve problems around me. Passively accepting the status quo is something that doesn’t even cross my mind.

My mother wrote poetry, books, and letters to the editor to try to change the world—some were published; others remained manuscripts that she worked and reworked with comments that she solicited from authors she respected. She did not sit still.

When, at ninety-three, illness left her only a short time to live, she told me that she had submitted her recent book of poetry to a publisher but hadn’t received a response from them. So I called the publisher, only to learn that the company had gone out of business. As my mother’s health was slipping quickly, there wasn’t time to find a different publisher. After a few weeks of feeling helpless, I finally stopped sitting on my hands and looked for another solution.

I found a wonderful family-owned book-binding company and a printer who agreed to produce twenty copies of my mother’s book as quickly as they could. Sandy Geiser Craig and Bernie Pond were touched by my mother’s story and quickly moved into action with me. As a threesome, we worked together to complete the book just a few hours before I left to see my mother for the last time. I handed it to her gift-wrapped. Her pain medication made it hard for her to see and think clearly, and she struggled to read the title of the book I had given her. When she finally recognized her title, The Wrinkled Nest, she truly looked as if she had seen a ghost. Then her face softened into a smile. “You remembered,” she said. And then I knew—she had expected all along that I wouldn’t sit still either and let her final book remain a manuscript.

Not finding a solution wasn’t an option. And this has guided me through so much of my life. I live in the world of education and opportunity. This is a daily challenge. It calls for invention and ingenuity. When faced with a problem, I can’t simply shrug my shoulders and say, “I don’t know.”

While I can’t change the world alone, I work on making it better by addressing issues that mean a great deal to me. So when I see injustice, inequality, and prejudice, I can’t accept the status quo, and I need to take action. As idealistic as it may sound, I know I can make a difference. And I thank my parents for instilling this belief in me.

Carol Fixman retired as executive director of the Philadelphia Education Fund. She served previously as vice-president for academic affairs/dean of the faculty at Philadelphia University and director of international programs at Temple University. Originally from St. Louis, Missouri, she lived for many years in Germany, where she taught at the University of Bonn and developed programs for young academics and professionals. She has a PhD in German literature from Brown University. Philadelphia has been her home since 1988.

Recorded at WHYY in Philadelphia and produced by Elisabeth Perez Luna