I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.
Edward Everett Hale
I often tell people that I have the best job in the world. The column that I write for Lawrence Magazine is called Hometown Heroes, and that means it is my responsibility to find people in Lawrence who are doing good stuff, simply for the sake of doing good stuff. Then I get to write a profile about them and tell the community all about what they do. I have had the job for about a year now. In that time, I have met some absolutely fascinating people, who I probably would not have met otherwise.
There was the woman who had the idea ten years ago to raise money for non-profit agencies in Lawrence and Douglas County by recycling aluminum cans. She has raised $161,000 since 2005.
I met a woman who has been matched with her “little sister” through Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Douglas County for more than a decade. She met her “match” when she was in second grade, and that “match” recently graduated from high school. When I interviewed them, both parties in that match said they knew that they were going to be friends for the rest of their lives. Their connection was powerful.
I also got to interview a longtime volunteer at Willow Domestic Violence shelter, who credits that agency for saving her life. They helped her come up with a plan to leave an abusive marriage and stay safe. Now she is committed to doing all she can to help others do the same.
I also got to interview a case manager who has worked at Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center for the past twenty-five years. She used to tell her kids that “if you are doing all you can to make your corner of the world a better place, then you are doing good.” In my opinion, she has been taking her own advice for a very long time.
Recently I interviewed a guy who started volunteering at Headquarters Counseling Center in the Spring of 1984, and with the exception of a 10-year span when he moved out of state, he has been volunteering there ever since. He told me that he gets as much as he gives, and that Headquarters has been his “rock.”
Another guy that I have interviewed recently has a website through WordPress called the KAW Valley Almanac. Each week he posts a different picture on the site and describes the seasons and cycles of Douglas County and what those things mean in nature. He talked about sharing the planet with the plant and animal populations around us and how they affect the seasons and cycles that go on in nature just like humans do. When I asked him why he was so passionate about observing these things in nature, he replied: “What we don’t observe becomes invisible.” I found that statement to be incredibly profound.
With rare exception, everyone I have interviewed for this column has been quick to tell me that they are not a hero, they are just ordinary people. Every time I hear that, I respectfully disagree. Even my boss, at Lawrence Magazine, has gone out of his way to accommodate my disability and make sure that I always have everything that I need to do my job well. He has been incredibly good to me.
What have I learned after having this job for almost a year?
Heroes don’t have to do huge things. Ordinary people can do some things that are pretty darn extraordinary.
One person can make a significant impact on the world.
Small efforts make a big difference.
An act of kindness can go a very long way.
And learning these lessons has made me do several things differently over the past few months. I have put effort into listening to my caregivers more than I used to while doing my best to try to support them in whatever is going on in their lives. I also think I seek out more opportunities that allow me to be kind to others, even if that means simply saying hello to someone I pass when my dog and I are strolling on the bike trail. My job has also made me aware that there are so many different people in my community who have different needs. That reminds me not to judge, and to have compassion for everyone, because chances are good that I don’t know their whole story.
As cheesy as it sounds, having this job has changed my mindset a bit. I wake up every morning and challenge myself to be a hero. To live by the truth that I am only one, but still, I am one…And I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.