post du jour ~elizabeth lesser

Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk and social activist once said that as he grew older he came to understand that it was not ideas that changed the world, but simple gestures of love given to the people around you, and sometimes to those you feel most at odds with. He wrote that in order to save the world, you must serve the people in your life. “You gradually struggle less and less for an idea,” Merton wrote, “and more and more for specific people. In the end, it is the reality of personal relationship that saves everything.”

Over the past few months my activity has revolved around my sister’s illness and her treatment and family. I had thought maybe my world would feel smaller as I stopped traveling and speaking as much as I usually do, as I scaled back at work, as I said “no” to invitations and events. But the opposite is true. My world is bigger than ever, if love is the measuring stick. When ego is the measuring the stick, the world never feels big enough. But love makes big from small.

I am not saying we should abandon all efforts to save the world, or to find purpose in work, or to flex our creativity and unique gifts. I’m saying that so much of what we think will bring us happiness and help others ends up being just a lot of noise. I’m trying, in my own life, to filter out the noise and listen for the deeper song. It’s hard! The culture is noisy. I also have my parents living in my head, closer to me now that they are no longer alive. Their message—when they were alive and now from the other side—is always the same: Save the world! Do the good work! Speak up for the less fortunate, protect the environment, rage against injustice. I have spent much of my life trying to “save the world,” and I am proud of some of the ways in which my work has brought solace to others. But lo and behold, it’s being present for family, friends and coworkers that seems to make the most difference. If each of us did that; if each of us put love in charge of our life in all our relationships—the fun ones, the sweet ones, the thorny ones, the unforgiven and unforgiving ones—we’d save this world, one by one.

~Elizabeth Lesser (author of Broken Open), Facebook post – June 22, 2013


3 thoughts on “post du jour ~elizabeth lesser

  1. I agree with Elizabeth and I think it is easier to save the world than to be present and compassionate to those we know and who know us. It’s only recently that I’ve begun to see the possibility for a huge ego trip when we are out to save the world. Reading this has contributed to my sense of well-being this morning.
    Thank you, Viki, for posting such heartfelt and many times unpopular messages. You are an inspiration. Hugs, Brenda

  2. Thank you, Brenda. I do try to post quotes and messages that come from the writer’s heart (and resonate with my own). I confess that I’ve never really given much thought to whether the message will be unpopular, though I suppose in retrospect some of them might be.

    I used to be overwhelmed thinking of all the people and animals and habitats, etc. etc. etc. that need saving in the world…the thought paralyzed me, for how could I, one measly person, make a difference? When I finally realized that I could make a difference one person at a time, in my own back yard, I finally came to a place of peace. This I could do. I might not be able to save the world, but maybe I could save the day of one person, and maybe that person would go on to save the day of another person, and so on….

    I admire greatly those who take up causes and lead others in large efforts that make a visible difference in the world, but that’s not who I am. Nor is it who most of us are. Most of us have our hands full paying the mortgage, putting food on the table for our families, driving the carpool, or caring for an elderly parent. However, I do believe that we can change the world by being mindful of how and who we are as we move through the world.

    I had a friend in high school who was a “free spirit”…kind of wacky in the way she dressed and thought and not at all the type to conform—at an age when peer pressure ruled. Ten years later, at our high school reunion, she turned to me at one point and said, very seriously, “You know, you were the only person in high school who ever accepted me as I was.” I was flabbergasted—I couldn’t remember doing anything special—and her words have stayed with me all these years. What I took away from that moment is that we can never know what effect our interactions with others might have. A kind word might mean more to someone than we will ever know—and the same is true for an unkind word.

    So…this is how I choose to change the world: a smile, an encouraging word, an accepting attitude…and maybe a blog post that touches someone’s heart or encourages them to look at things just a little differently. I’m as human as the next person, of course, and there are days when this isn’t always easy, but I try to return to that state of mind as quickly as I can when I get off track.

    Thank you so much for your comments/feedback, Brenda…you are always so thoughtful and encouraging and appreciative. Hugs, Viki

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