Small changes in this hard world

Sometimes, the best part of a mystery novel is a few pages after the crime is solved.

Last weekend, I picked up Sara Paretsky's latest at the library.  I was looking forward to visiting with my old friend V I Warshawski over the weekend while I recuperated from the vetiges of the flu.  That it was a scathing indictment of Wal-Mart only added to the deliciousness. 

In the final scene, Victoria is discussing her discouragement with her friend and mentor, Lotty.  Vic had solved the crime and saved some lives on top of putting a few back together.  Nonetheless, she was on the cusp of surrendering to the “drop in a bucket” feeling of despair.  Lotty comforts her.

“If a Messiah ever does come, it will only be because of people like you, doing these small, hard jobs, making small changes in this hard world.” 

What you may not know is that in between bantering with John McIntire and scouring the Internet for the latest homonews, I'm a social worker.  I work for a medium sized nonprofit human services agency.  Some of my work is directly with consumers; some is behind the scenes.  But, lately, its been discouraging. 

The agency is a pretty good place to work.  My supervisors are good people who have a lot to teach me.  But even in the best of circumstances, human services is a taxing field.  It is exhausting to be continuously exposed to daunting odds. 

I spent the past six weeks feverishly consumed by holiday projects.  Living, breathing and sleeping Christmas.  Three days before the holidays, I realized that I was actually defining success by how MANY gifts I solicited.  It wasn't until we began to divide them up among our children and I saw how much they each received, that it hit me and I was appalled at myself.  

I told myself that it was for the kids, but that's patently untrue.  It was for the win, the victory, the success. I wasn't going to let my idea fail.  And thank god, I saw that in time to turn at least a little bit of that success into a better Christmas for some children who weren't part of my master plan. 

I'm probably being too hard on myself.  Many children had a great holiday because of this program.  Many people had a chance to experience the pleasure of generosity and giving because of this program. 

But it felt like a little drop of nothing to me. 

I lost perspective. Working that hard for a holiday for 100 children in a world filled with millions of suffering children seemed wasteful and pointless. I should be out doing something bigger, something more meaningful. 

I lost sight of the real meaning of my work.  It wasn't about winning the holiday toy drive  and it wasn't about helping only 100 children.  It was about being present in the holidays and using my tools to keep those children and all children in the hearts and minds of the hard world. 

Happy 2006.



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