Just stand there shining
“Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.” — Anne Lamott
I don’t want to sound paranoid, but people are watching us. They watch us in grocery store checkout lines, in doctors’ waiting rooms, or sitting at the wheel at a stoplight in gridlock. They overhear our cell phone conversations on the subway and at ball games. And they see how we act and react, in big and small dramas, every day of our lives.
Some of these people are strangers, and some are our children, spouses or friends. Some of them are doing okay, but many of them are caught in heartaches and crises of their own. It’s sobering to realize that we have countless tiny chances every day to make life a bit brighter for almost everyone we meet. A smile, a kind word, patience with someone who’s obviously struggling, even if that person is our waitress or cashier or obnoxious co-worker.
One recent morning I went down to the hospital cafeteria to have breakfast. It was the day after Jeff’s portal vein embolization, and the doctors were pleased with how things went. We had begun to feel hopeful again. The woman who served my eggs greeted me with a beaming smile and asked how I was doing. “Better than I was yesterday,” I replied with obvious happiness. You would have thought I was her best friend as she broke into an even bigger smile and said, “I’m so glad you are feeling better! Praise God that you are better today!” I’m not sure exactly why, but that woman’s kindness and sincerity supercharged my already happy mood. And if my mood had been low, I feel certain she would have had something equally encouraging to say.
The troubles of the world can be overwhelming. Sometimes we get confused into thinking that fixing global problems requires the authority of the President or the Pope or a greedy CEO somewhere. We may feel that we are insignificant and powerless, unable to make anything better. When we feel that way, we are normal and typical, but incorrect. The positive changes we make may never be featured on the evening news, or even in somebody’s yearly holiday letter. But that makes them no less real. I know this is so because of all the times when people who had no idea they were changing my mood, my thinking or my life have given me encouragement, compassion or simple courtesy just when I needed it most, when I was on some undefined edge, about to snap or lose heart.
Today, I hope you will celebrate the opportunity to spread cheer and good will on an ordinary day. You don’t have to go out searching for ways to make the world better. Just stand where you are, shining.