Monday, August 8, 2011

Make a Difference for the Good

Local (adjective) 1. pertaining to a city, town, or small district rather than an entire state or country                    --Random House Dictionary

Folks reading news headlines last Monday morning in the Boston area awoke to some tough events, at least from a national and world perspective.  “U.S. Credit Rating Downgraded”.  “Stocks Expected to Tumble in Worldwide Trading”.  “Democrats and Republicans Return to Bickering After Short Lived Bi-Partisan Truce”.  “Worst One Day Death Toll in Afghan War”.  Makes you want to skip the front page and make straight for the comics!  But if you had dug into the news a bit deeper, you might have found this encouraging headline: “8,000 Bicycle Riders and Volunteers Raise Record $34 Million for Cancer Care and Research in Pan Mass Challenge”.      

As one of the sore but satisfied folks who participated in that amazing weekend of endurance cycling and caring and community at The Pan Massachusetts Challenge (PMC), the largest athletic fundraiser in the United States, that’s the good news I’m reading today. Good news. Local news. Next door news. News that hits right at home.  About record charitable gifts for a world class cancer care facility right around the corner, the Dana Farber in Boston. News of neighbors and friends who rode along with me for upwards of 190 miles across this beautiful little state of Massachusetts. News of ninety of my family and friends donating $7,350 in my name to find a cure for cancer. News about the thousands of folks who lined our bike route from Sturbridge to Provincetown and cheered us on every mile.  News of Dads who rode in honor of parents who died of cancer, Moms who rode for children who are sick, and folks who rode for total strangers, all because they simply want to make a positive difference in the world.  To do good:  locally, personally, and directly.

True: this goods news won’t sell a lot of newspapers, or garner the lead on CNN or Fox News.  President Obama won’t tout it in a news conference and Speaker Boehner won’t lift it up in his press face time, but the miracle is that a lot of good like the PMC happens in this world every day locally, in the places that we live and the cities and towns we call home.  In this intense time in our nation’s history, when it seems as if almost nothing is going right, perhaps we “little people” need to remember and affirm this one truth.  Each of us, in large and small ways, through simple acts of kindness and courage and generosity, we can make this world a better place. 

We may not have the sway or the power of high priced lobbyists in D.C. or on Beacon Hill.  We may not have the ear of the elites, the powers that be.  Individually we can’t move markets or end wars or bring together our squabbling “leaders”. We may even be tempted to be cynical about the shape of things, our collective and national impotence in the face of huge problems.

But this we can do: have a loving and powerful impact at the local level.  With our one life, we can do something.  And that something always starts with “me”, how each of us chooses to live every day.  We can love or hate. We can reach out in compassion to the hurting or shrink back in fear.  We can be generous with our money or we can be stingy and hang on to it for dear life.  We can have hope or we can walk away in frustration.  But finally, locally, the world we call home will be either “good” or “bad” depending upon what we do and how we respond at the most intimate of levels, face to face and neighbor to neighbor.

I’m not denying the importance of working for big change, global change, profound change.  This work clearly matters.  But as Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”  So if human hunger tears at your conscience, pick up an extra bag of food each time you shop then drop it off at the local food pantry, or better yet volunteer there.  If each time you see a homeless person it breaks your heart, give some time and money to the Pine Street Inn or Rosie’s Place.  Angry about how so many folks of faith seem to only sow seeds of hatred and intolerance? Then get back to your faith tradition and make it right by committing to a God of love in your church, synagogue or mosque.  Anxious about global warming? Take a look around your house and start using less energy. Want to help find a cure for cancer? Then get on your bike and ride in next year’s PMC.

The nineteenth century Massachusetts preacher Edward Everett Hale may have put it best when he declared, “I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do. And by the grace of God, I will.”

That’s the good news for today.

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