I believe I can change the big world in little ways.
As a college student in Oklahoma, whenever I decided to make the 212-mile journey home to my parents’ house in Kansas I would save up some money beforehand to pay for gas, food, the turnpike, and any incidentals along the way. It was never a great sum of money, but I always managed until I got home. My dad would normally slip me $20 bill and a wink for the drive back to Oklahoma.
One particular journey found me especially strapped for cash. Already on the turnpike, I realized I hadn’t as much money as I thought so I knew I’d have to forego a meal on the road in lieu of the $3.50 toll I would need to pay. As I approached the toll booth, I reluctantly handed over the last $5 bill. The woman in the booth smiled and said it wouldn’t be necessary. “The car in front of you paid your toll. Have a nice weekend.”
As I drove on, I kept wondering why someone would do that. What had been done for them that they would, in turn, help out a stranger in a little – but significant – way?
In 2008 I spent my summer in Juneau, Alaska working for a tourism company. I had been told by many locals to visit the Shrine of St. Therese so one Saturday I went with a friend to see what all the fuss was about. The calm winds seemed to whisper peace to all who entered. As I meandered through the chapel and read her story, I couldn’t help but think this young girl had gotten it right so early on.
Therese Martin joined a French convent at age 15 and spent her short time impacting others’ lives in little ways. Though she died just nine years later, her life’s work did not. She wrote, “The only way I can prove my love is by scattering flowers and these flowers are every little sacrifice, every glance and word… for love.” Today known as the Patron Saint of Alaska, thousands flock to St. Therese’s shrine every year to pay homage to her influential life.
Though we currently live in a world experiencing an economic recession, war-torn countries, irreversible damages to our fragile environment, and changes in political power, one truth remains irrefutable: each one of us living on this earth has been given charge, in some capacity of life, to leave things better than we found them. Some of us will find cures for diseases, and others of us will pay for another’s passage on the journey home.
In the 10 years since my toll booth encounter, I’ve never forgotten the kindness of the stranger ahead of me that night. Gandhi taught, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” In my life, small acts of kindness have made this a beautiful place.
This I believe.