I remember her name. I remember she was kind and that I loved her. I remember where she lived.
I do not remember what she looked like, or that she had a son. I do not remember her actually doing anything for me. I do not know what made me love her.
Her name was Evelyn. Fifty years later, whenever I drive by “her” house I say to myself, “That’s Evelyn’s house” as if it was holy.
A few years ago I discovered a folder on FB where all the messages from people you are not “friends” with go. In it I found a message from Evelyn’s son.
“Are you the Kathryn, whose mother was Marjorie?”
Michael shared his memories with me. My mother was the kindest person he knew. My siblings were wonderful and he thanked me for playing with him when we were little. I don’t remember Evelyn’s son at all.
My mother had given Evelyn a job that changed the lives of both Evelyn and her son. My mother paid for his summer camp for several years. My siblings taught him to swim in the lake. And we played together.
Fifty years later he looked me up on FB and found me. To say “Thank you.”
“It’s the action, not the fruit of the action, that’s important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there’ll be any fruit. But that doesn’t mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result.” Mahatma Gandhi
I don’t know if my mother ever truly knew how her decision to help Evelyn and her son changed their lives. I don’t know if Evelyn ever knew I thought she was the kindest person I ever knew. For my mother and for Evelyn I don’t think they thought about seeing the fruit of their kindness, they just acted and did the right thing. They cared, showed compassion and reached out. They each offered and received. As a result two six year old children grew up to remember only the kindness and love.
“You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” Jane Goodall
Every single day we interact with people in ways that may have a profound impact on their lives. Few of us may even be aware of this. I doubt Evelyn could have guessed that 50 years later I would have strong memories of her. I don’t remember her son but my playing with him is a strong, happy memory of his.
“Every individual matters. Every individual has a role to play. Every individual makes a difference.” Jane Goodall
We all matter and we all can make a difference. Once we acknowledge that we do matter, all we have to do is put a little thought into what kind of difference we want to make. Evelyn ( I think!) “chose” being kind and loving….whether is was a conscious action, a sense of gratitude or inherent in her being, I don’t know. My mother made a decision for “right action” by reaching out to Evelyn and her son and lifting them up. Evelyn’s son held on for a long time the desire to express gratitude and say “thank-you”. This led him to go out on a limb and see if I could be found on FB (computers and FB could not have ever even been imagined by us ‘back then’!) and then reach out to contact me. Small things that are important things to people.
It’s no different in terms of what we stand for humanistically, politically, religiously, spiritually, globally, environmentally…..we matter. Our voices matter, our actions matter, our choices matter. These things matter for us, and for others. It is not important whether we will ever see, witness, know of our impact. It is about doing the right thing at the right time without ever considering not doing what is needed.
I can believe I have every right to some things, to feel entitled to some things, but in my heart and mind any decision I make to do or not do something does not rest alone on my needs or how it will impact me. I am required by my conscience to consider other people, the environment, other perspectives.
It goes the other way too, maybe I feel the environment doesn’t matter, or that is doesn’t matter if the other person has health care, or food, or water. I still feel I have a responsibility to care. I believe there are no “others”. I want my grand children and great grand children to have a healthy planet with breathable air and clean water. I want them to see an elephant in the wild or be able to eat a fish from the ocean. I want them to value the life and richness of other cultures and religions. I want them to care for the sake of others they do not know and for others who will come after them.
There are many, many wonderful and beautiful things happening all around the world and in our own cities and neighborhoods. And there are many, many unconscionable, horrendous things happening in the world, our own cities and neighborhoods. The first choice we have to make is to see or not see. Be aware and informed or unaware and uninformed. Then we make the choice to do or not do. To care or not care. To hope or not hope. To work for change or remain the same. It’s up to each one of us to decide like my mom did, to make a difference for one woman and her child, and like Evelyn did, to be kind and loving or, to turn the other way.
Either way, you will have an impact on someone. Having an impact is not the choice. As Dr. Goodall reminds us, “You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”
What kind of difference do you want to make?