How Do We Change the World?


Quote from Henry David Thoreau on Library Way ...

Quote from Henry David Thoreau on Library Way in New York City. Taken on February 28, 2007. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“You write in order to change the world, knowing perfectly well that you probably can’t, but knowing that literature is indispensable to the world…which changes according to the way people see it. And if you can alter, even by a millimeter, the way people look at reality…then you can change it.”  James Baldwin

I don’t know if it was because of the time I grew up in or the family I grew up in. I don’t know if it was because of the college I went to or the friends I met there, or the books I read there, or the books I read before I got there. But if you asked me then what I really wanted to do with my life, I would have said, “I want to change the world.”

From the time I was a child a hunger grew in me, a desire to make a difference. When in college I read Thoreau‘s words about living deliberately I knew I certainly did not want “to die and learn that I had never lived.”  In thinking about that quote I wrote in my journal, “when the waters of death pass me o’r, may a ripple mark the spot, to show the world a slightly different place, if only because I lived.”

I started out thinking the way to do this would be by being a newspaper reporter. It was the Vietnam era. I would write the truth. I would tell people what they needed to know to change the world.  Then I found that the kind of writing I really loved didn’t fit with the rules of journalism…at least not the writing rules at my college paper.  And I found two other loves, literature and the man who became my husband, who also wanted to make a difference. First life edit:  Major in English, marry the man you love, teach.

And I did love teaching, actually I still do…but that is the end of the story and we are still at the beginning. You see I thought I could change the world. I would do it through helping my students, though teaching them to think, to understand their world through literature and essays.  I love the Christa McAuliffe quote, “I touch the future. I teach.”

But in my last year teaching high school there was a young man in my class who changed things for me. He happened to be best friends with the son of a friend. When our friend’s son was tragically killed in a fire, my student was almost destroyed. ‘John’ lived in an alcoholic home and the opportunity to have a friend from a strong family had meant the world to him.  They were his refuge. So he lost so much more than a friend.

John began missing school and if he attended he sat and stared. When I pushed, and kept on pushing, to get him help, the principal (the guy who should be a p-a-l) admonished me that I was this young man’s teacher, not his social worker, and I should restrict myself to teaching John. English. Just English. That wasn’t enough for me. Second life edit:  go be a social worker.

So on to the world of social work, an MSW, and The Salvation Army in Syracuse. There I found incredible mentors and a real chance to make a difference. From working with domestic violence survivors, to parents and children in abusive families, to creating ‘The Women’s Shelter, a home for psychiatrically impaired women, to creating P.R.I.S. M., a program for families with youth in legal trouble, to writing grants and supervision, I got to touch many lives and to help shape other young idealistic social workers, who really may change the world one life at a time.

After another life edit I have come full circle, back to teaching, back to writing. If only a millimeter here and a millimeter there, I have tried to offer new possibilities, new chances, new futures.  In The Call I speak to the need to serve a higher purpose and I hope it will be one more way to try to change the world.

Yes, at this stage in my life, I know that’s impossible for any one person, but I will struggle on, putting one foot in front of the other. And I will encourage others to take up the call when mine is ended, because that is the only way the world will be different, when we each do our part. In some unending chain of people that I will never know, I hope if someone picks up the torch and passes it on perhaps someday change really will happen and the world will be full of light.

So, what do you think? Want to change it with me?

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About joanneeddy

Writer living in North Carolina. Originally from upstate New York. I love my family, my community, and my friends, and embrace 'living deliberately' in the world, trying to make a difference. I have written an as yet unpublished book, The Call, an epic fantasy with historical fiction and folklore elements. My blog is for other writers, for those who love a good read, and for all who, like me, are looking to find and live their call.
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