Wednesday, December 14, 2011

I want to count.

"I just want to do something that counts."

It was a sentiment I heard often when I was a teenager in high school, when the most important thing we ever did was study for today's history test.  Then, it was something I heard when I was in my 20s, and we were all caught up in the quest to fall in love and change the world.  Then, it was something I heard when I was in my 30s and we were all just a bit lost in mothering and wife-ing, and we forgot who we were.  And it won't surprise me much if it's a sentiment I hear from around me as I enter into my 40s...  those many, many, many, many years down the road. *cough*

We want to matter.  We desire to count.  We don't want to get to the end of our lives, or even the end of each phase of our life, just to find out that we just spent the last 10, 20, 50 years not-mattering.

But, I think that somewhere along the way, we get a funny idea of what that means.  We start to buy into the idea that only the big things matter, that the only way to matter is to be the best at whatever you're good at.  The most successful writer, the best actor, the most successful singing career.  The Teacher of the Year, the cover of Forbes magazine, the one that everyone around says "I want to be like her."

We miss something when we go there.

It's an oft-told story of the man throwing back the starfish.  There he is, on a beach full of hundreds and hundreds of starfish, and he walks along the beach throwing them back into the ocean, one by one. Another man comes along and says, "Why are you throwing the starfish back into the ocean?  The tide is coming in and there's no way you'll be able to save them all.  You can't possibly make that much of a difference."  The first man bends down and picks up another starfish.  He looks at it thoughtfully and then throws it into the ocean.  "It made a difference to that one."

Our culture tells us that being the biggest and best is the way to achieve success, the way to matter, the way to count.

My heart tells me that starting small, and touching who I can with what I have matters more... whether that's the harrowed mom at Target, or the little old lady who needs help putting her groceries in her car, or the young husband looking befuddled at the 12 different kinds of flour and which one he's supposed to bring to his wife.

Every one of those counts.  When you live a life where you look to count in the small ways, I think you'll end up counting more than you ever could have if you had only gone for the big ones.

So when your heart cries out that it just wants to do something that counts, look around you and find a starfish.

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Photo Credit: Cielo de la Paz

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