“We cannot, of course, save the world, because we do not have authority over its parts. We can serve the world though. This is everyone’s calling; to lead a life that helps.” – Barry Lopez
I came across this quote from writer Barry Lopez yesterday and it feels especially appropriate given how sharp and jagged the world feels these days, with all the violence and polarization, not to mention the madness of the American electoral cycle in full swing again. (When isn’t it?)
My friend, writer Sparkle V. Hayter, posted this wonderful cartoon on Facebook yesterday:
It sums up my present state of mind perfectly. I often feel as though I have to hunker down, eyes averted from the constant litany of horrors on the news, just to protect my mental health.
But turning away feels wrong somehow. In The Radiant City, my novel about emotionally battered war-correspondent, Matthew Bowles, I wrote about how much journalists risk to shed light on the atrocities committed on the innocent across the globe. Who am I to say it’s too painful to look? To refuse to bear witness?
And yet how hopeless it can feel. I cannot stop the bombing, stop the burnings, stop the mangling of the earth or any of the other absurd nightmares playing out in the world. It would be megalomaniacal to imagine I could, and with Donald Trump so much in the spotlight right now, the world certainly doesn’t need another one of those! Snort.
This is where humility comes in, as both a healing force and a significant power for good. To approach the day with a desire to serve the world means I am approaching the day in human scale. I am not big enough, not powerful enough, not nearly wise enough, to be the savior of the world. That doesn’t stop me, or you, or anyone, from being precisely what the world needs right now. To serve one’s own patch, to tend it, to care for it, to help it, as Lopez suggests, is all that’s required of us — and what an enormous thing it is.
What can I contribute to the good today? What service can I offer? What’s realistic and appropriate for me? Well, in order to answer that question I need to know who I am and what my gifts are, which means practicing discernment and awareness. I’m a writer, not a brain surgeon, not a diplomat, not a farmer or captain of industry. I must be who I am, where I am. So I write.
It’s not a complicated process. Consider a day, just an ordinary day. I go about my job, my life, just as I always do, but with one small exception — rather than being lost in the fog of my own petty concerns and desires, I keep considering the simple question, how can I help out? Not, how can I get what I want? Not, how can I avoid discomfort? but how can I be of service to my neighbor, to my wee small patch, to whomever crosses my path today? When faced with a choice I can ask myself, as my friend Sister Rita is always saying: What does it mean to remain faithful? What is for the good of all concerned?
This focus on doing what contributes to the good of all includes myself, of course. It means I don’t become a martyr to the desires of others, some doormat to be abused. It means I remain constant on the goal of serving the good of the world, which includes me. I cannot contribute to justice, to the healing of the earth, to mercy and forgiveness and reconciliation, if I’m flattened into the dirt with tire marks on my face, now can I?
So we don’t despair, since despair isn’t useful. We don’t become cynical — that last refuge of the brokenhearted. We practice hopeful expectation. At the end of a day I’ve managed to live with the desire to serve as my central purpose, I don’t feel overwhelmed and depressed, but rather I feel at peace, and in harmony with what I perceive to be Sacred, regardless of whether it’s been a painful day or not. I feel ready to get up tomorrow and do it again, with gratitude for the opportunity.
Tell me, how do you serve the world? I’d love to know.