Change The World

Breaking news, kids.

Summer’s (pretty much) over. Time to hit the books. Fall isn’t here yet, but it’s peeking around the corner. School bells. Bright yellow buses. High school kids in shoulder pads. Pep rallies. Cooler weather. The ground covered in blankets of burnt orange leaves. Ethereal, afternoon sunlight beaming through the window.

School is back.

Parrish High School. 1980. Jimmy Carter tossed the Oval Office keys to Ronald Reagan. Boston’s monster hit, More Than A Feeling, was on every dadgum radio station west of the Mississippi. Steve Martin slapped on a pair of bunny ears and a fake nose with glasses, earnestly plucking his banjo as he spoke in hushed tones about “getting small.”

I was a senior.

I survived 12 years of readin’, writin’, and ‘rithmetic. I’d made it to the mountain top. Top of the world, ma!  I had discovered M*A*S*H*  the previous year, and I spent every waking moment trying to emulate “Hawkeye” Pierce and honing my (alleged) razor-sharp wit.

Steve Martin was funny. “Hawkeye” was witty.

A few months later, about 44 of us dewy-eyed kids stood on a stage, sweating in purple caps and gowns, clutching diplomas and tossing out hugs like peppermint candy at a Christmas parade. We made eloquent speeches. We thought we were going to change the world.

We were so wrong.  

The world changed us.

We bagged groceries. We flipped burgers. Dug ditches. Hammered nails. Sold cars. Some of us went to college. Some joined the armed forces. Some of us saw ghastly, horrific things that a human being wasn’t meant to see another human being do. Some of us came home in a box.

Some of us are still over there.

We don’t talk about the things we saw. They are too horrible, too gut-wrenching, too nightmarish. It doesn’t matter. You can see it in our haunted, hollow eyes, and you know.

We lost family members. Cancer. Stroke. Accidents. We mourned parents. We buried children.

We earned degrees. We received promotions. We joined organizations, and we formed committees.

Then one night, as we sat alone in a quiet house with everyone else asleep, the truth descended upon us like fire and brimstone over Sodom and Gomorrah.

We didn’t change anything.

Mountains remain unmoved. Cancer still kills. Nations still fight each other over plots of land.

And when no one was looking, we grew older. Those fresh-faced kids with feathered haircuts and bell bottom jeans are now grandparents with graying hair and crow’s feet.

I didn’t intend for this to sound cynical. Every graduating class believes it will be the one that changes the world. Albert Einstein’s family thought he might be mentally challenged because he didn’t speak until he was 4 years old. One night at dinner, he opened his mouth and said, “The soup is too hot.” When they asked him why he hadn’t spoken a word before then, he shrugged and said, “Because up to now, everything was in order.”

I’m fairly certain the world is much better because of Albert Einstein.

You don’t have to discover the cure for polio or cancer or Parkinson’s disease to change the world. You don’t have to design a supersonic jet that flies from Bugtussle to Paris in two hours without refueling once. You don’t have to write a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel to make this world a better place.

Begin with one person. Be a friend to a girl struggling with drug addiction. She needs to know someone still cares. Be a big brother to a little boy whose daddy isn’t around anymore. He needs your positive influence. Spend a few minutes a week with an elderly person whose children don’t have time to visit anymore. They need to know they have not been abandoned.

It’s not too late for you and me to change the world, regardless if we’re 18 or 80.

Just do it one life at a time.  78

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