In one of my favorite poems, “Wild Geese,” Mary Oliver concludes: “Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,/ the world offers itself to your imagination,/ calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –/ over and over announcing your place/ in the family of things.” For me, the poem is about being human and accepting our limitations while also appreciating the many gifts that our lives can offer. It seems to suggest that no matter what we’re going through, we all have a valuable role to play in the world.
Like many people, I suppose, I often wonder what role I am meant to play. I wonder if my life is making a difference and if so, how much. Am I doing enough? Could I do more?
I think of the starfish story by Loren Eisley, in which an old man on the beach encounters a young man throwing starfish back into the ocean to rescue them, and when the old man asks, “Why are you doing this? There are so many starfish on this beach!” the young man tosses another one in and replies, “It makes a difference to this one.”
I also think of MOUNTAINS BEYOND MOUNTAINS, Tracy Kidder’s biography of Dr. Paul Farmer, who has arguably done more than any other individual to cure the world of infectious diseases, beginning in Haiti. Farmer’s story is amazing and inspiring. His willingness to sacrifice and his commitment to the cause is almost unbelievable. And Kidder’s writing is engrossing.
We might not all be Paul Farmer, but when I first read Kidder’s book, it made me want to be a better person. So to both men I would like to say, You made a difference to this one.