In the last two weeks of 2015, The New York Times Magazine featured “The Lives They Lived,” short profiles of artists, innovators, and thinkers who we lost in 2015.

What struck me about this feature article was that, perhaps with one or two exceptions, these were people that you probably have never heard of. They lived full lives and made a significant difference in the world, some on a big scale, others primarily for the people around them. Most of us never knew anything about them. Yet they each made an impact through their lives and accomplishments.

Alongside that article, the Times ran another feature, “The Lives They Loved” – short stories submitted by readers about people they deeply loved and cherished and had lost in 2015. Again, these were not famous people. They didn’t accomplish “big” things for the world, yet they made a big enough difference in at least one person’s life to inspire that person to write about them and submit their story and photo to The New York Times.

We’re living in complex and complicated times, often unpredictable and confusing. It’s easy to hide behind feelings of despair or a version of the story that says, “I’m just one person – I can’t do anything about that.” Even those who are the most committed to service and transformation can, at times, be tempted to withdraw out of frustration or simply not knowing what to do. Sometimes, we just feel worn down by it all.

It’s OK. It’s normal. It’s important to acknowledge those feelings when they arise and to take care of ourselves. It may be time to take a rest, refresh, and replenish. And then, we take a deep breath and step back out into the world again.

Whether by intention or not, we each play a role in the creation of the mass consciousness. We each contribute to what is happening in the world around us through our thoughts, feelings, attitudes, choices, decisions, and actions. All of us together create the story we are currently living. Therefore, every single one of us matters. We all make a difference in at least one other person’s life – often, more than we will ever know.

There will always be famous people who are recognized for their great accomplishments and impact. Yet for every famous person, there are countless numbers of people who will never be widely known, yet who make a difference by how they live their lives. Perhaps they will invent something, or create an inspiring work of art, or help people to change their lives in some way, or simply commit many random acts of kindness. Everyone can make a difference.

The awareness, choices, decisions, and actions of every single one of us matter. Whether you choose to live and work on a global stage or to focus on your family and community, you can make a difference. Service is needed at every level of society. We all can make a difference.

One of the people who inspire me frequently is story artist Brian Andreas. I leave you with his little story, “Starting Line.”

Those first moments are never
where it begins. It takes time
for us to come out from behind
all the things we think we are,
but after that, if we’re willing
to stand there quietly, we start.
To see & be seen. After that,
we start to love.

~ ~ ~

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