Years ago, I was sitting in an eighth grade geography class and we were talking about current events. That is the first time I heard about a place called Bangladesh. You see, Bangladesh had been devastated by a cyclone that killed tens of thousands of people. Being an introspective melancholy, that bit of news impacted me in a way that changed the course of my world forever.
From a very young age I knew that I wanted to change the world, and it was that moment, in that class, that gave me my very first glimpse of a world so much larger than the one I knew. I was devastated by the wanton destruction and the poverty that I learned was this faraway place called Bangladesh. In that moment, I believed I had found my purpose, my calling so to speak. I knew that one day I had to go there.
I was half right. I did need to go there, and I did, but Bangladesh was not the destination of my purpose, it was more the guiding star that pointed me in the right direction as well as a pit stop along the way to finding my purpose in this crazy thing we call life. That moment of revelation in a middle school classroom pointed my life in a direction that has sent me on the course my life would take. What my teacher chose to talk about in class that day, changed my life forever. That moment mattered.
It was that moment that led to finding my husband (a professor set up a meeting between the two of us because he had spent six months there and I was getting ready to go there for my internship), and thus to the beautiful children we now have. It led to the many countries that I have gone to and tried to help, and, inadvertently, even to this fledgling writing career I have begun. If Mr. Tomasgaard had decided to talk about something else that day, or if he had decided to skip the current events discussion entirely, my life would never have had its course altered and my children would not exist and I would be an altogether different person than I am today.
Mr. Tomasgaard has no idea of what impact his small choice in a classroom two decades ago has meant to my life, and consequently, to all the lives that this path has brought me in contact with. That day mattered. That moment, that very choice, it mattered.
I have always been a purpose driven person. I have needed a guiding sense of something larger than myself that I am a part of to make me feel right with the world and myself. In this current place in my journey, I have struggled with the feeling that I am floundering, with a sense of lostness, of a life that has lost its purpose. This domestic life that I am living feels too small, too insignificant, not important enough. I have felt like my life does not matter.
And yet, today, as I sat here at the park, reflecting on that day so many years ago, I was struck with thought that Mr. Tomasgaard may have felt that way that very day. He may have been struggling with the feeling that teaching geography at a small town school in a little town that no one outside of central Wisconsin has even heard of was a waste of his life, that that day was just another day in a succession of days where one was pretty much like the one before. But he would have been wrong.
Unbeknownst to him, he completely altered the course of a life that day, and consequently, every life that I have touched since.
We don’t have to live larger than life lives to change the world. Every act of kindness, every kind word, every single conversation we have, is full of possibility. We can’t know how even the smallest things we do may impact the world around us.
When you ask people about the moments that have changed their lives, they will almost always say that it was not some great speaker, not some larger than life personality who has changed them forever. Instead, they will remember a parent, a friend, a teacher, maybe even a stranger who took the time to care, to open their heart, or share their passion. Often it is a moment that that person thought insignificant, normal, ordinary. But they would be wrong.
You may be changing the world every day in a million different ways that you will never see. Life is lived in the small things and it is the small things that tend to impact our lives in the biggest ways. You may be a life changer and not even know it.