From time to time, I have moments of intense reflection, ones in which my vivid imagination paints a picture of outer space. Somewhere in the midst of all the purples, grays, and blues in this galactic backdrop, there is an arrow pointing to a small white spec that says “you are here.”
One could speculate the legitimacy of the placement of the arrow in this photo since a space craft has yet to travel outside of our galaxy. However, the point still remains; Earth is a pebble suspended in space compared to nearly everything else. And in this moment, all of the world’s issues, my personal issues, and the issues of my dear ones seem so small. I am awestruck and fixated on the truth that joy and turmoil are not only experiences shared by me but by 7.3 billion other people on this floating speck called Earth. But this feeling isn’t permanent. Sure enough, I find myself in my familiar state of overwhelm, feeling bombarded by news of tragedy, of large-scale conflict, of human beings lacking compassion when they should hold that ideal near and dear to them. And this is all happening when I’m trying to figure out my own life, trying navigate my own young adult world and attempting to make sense of it as I go. And, through of all of this, I am supposed to be empowered to “make a difference.” It leaves me feeling powerless, to be honest. If have to opt out of certain conversations where conflicting ideologies turn into heated arguments when it is just me and another person, how can I resolve the pervasive issues that arise among people of different backgrounds and belief systems on a global scale?
Sure enough, I was not the only one who felt this way. In fact, a professor of mine from my alma mater also felt overwhelmed with the task of changing the world when he was a university student. In my capstone course last year, he went ahead and shared a bit of the realization he had with the class. And since I attended a university whose aim is to equip students to become difference-makers in our world, I found what he had to say particularly comforting:
For me, that statement made all the difference.
In a world where big numbers have value and perfect Instagram photos of incredible adventures impacting others run rampant, it’s like I’ve been trained to see “leaving your mark” on a large scale. Seeing some of the amazing things people have done at my age, it can easily result in feeling inadequate when comparing my perception of their impact to mine, wondering why I am not at their level of giving back to others in a substantial way. I go back to the galaxy imagery, the “you are here” sign that points to Earth; I reflect on the fact that I can’t even be seen on dot called Earth that suspends between time and space. I assert that I am small.
And it is in this moment that I take comfort in my smallness.
Don’t get me wrong; my smallness is not due to the comparison of myself to others who seem to live more impactful lives than I do. In fact, they are small as well; all of them, all of you, and I–all small dots that contribute to the human population reaching 7.3 billion. I exhale in the relief, knowing that to love my neighbor, to say “how are you” and truly mean it–those ways and more are impactful ways I can change someone else’s world. I think of amazing women like Mother Teresa who did just that, a woman who used her humanity, her smallness, to leave a mark in the worlds of people in Calcutta, India which made a global impact during her life and after her death.
So I will take my professors advice. I will chose to reclaim my name and forgo the name Atlas, ambling about while burdened with the weight of the world on my back. I will continue to cultivate one-on-one relationships, having my world inevitably change as I also change the worlds I will be privileged to come across. Mary is only one person. Mary is small and that is okay. Just as there are people who have positively influenced me who don’t even know I exist, because of my smallness, I will not be aware of every single bit of impact I have left in others. But if ever my reach and impact come to point where I am constantly reminded to never forget my humble beginnings, may wisdom be my guide and may I never lose who I am as I consider how to make the best of a platform that stretches farther than my arms’ embrace. But until then, may I never forget the power in embracing those within my reach and may I never measure the worth of my impact in numbers.
What are your thoughts on the idea of changing the world and living an impactful life?