My daughter wants to change the world.
She’s nine, only a couple months removed from ten—that age when the world reveals itself to be a bit darker and more foreboding than once imagined, but it still retains a hue of rainbows and promise.
She’s studied history and knows about things like wars and slavery. She catches snippets of the news and sees the hunger and the hate. She knows what rape means. A few weeks ago, someone in her classroom was caught selling weed.
“Marijuana is bad, Daddy,” she told me. I told her yes, it was.
Much of me says it’s too early for any of this. I didn’t know what marijuana was until I was well into my teens, and my childhood was largely spent pondering the hitch in my baseball swing than the socio-economic ills of modern society. But these are different times, I suppose. Everything seems to be happening so fast. You try to let your kids be kids, but the world gets in the way.
My daughter, she doesn’t hide from any of this. Sometime in the last few years the thin veil that hangs over the world slipped away and revealed its true face to her, and she did not look away in horror. She was not afraid. She simply saw that something was broken and knew she was the one to fix it.
I can understand this. From the time I was eighteen until almost thirty, I felt the same way. I was going to be the one to fix the world. I was going to be the one to make a difference. And I acted as such in my own warped, disillusioned way until the day I realized just how tiny and powerless I was.
My daughter will learn that one day, too. I suppose I could try and soften that blow now, gently tell her that she isn’t all she thinks herself to be, but I won’t. There are things best learned while standing and things you can only learn after a fall. That lesson is of the latter. Most of the important ones are.
But on the other side of that she will learn one of the more valuable lessons in life, and that is that none of us can change the world. It is too big. We are too small. It has always been that way, and it always will.
That’s no cause for surrender, though. That’s what I’ll tell my daughter. That’s what I discovered for myself. Because even if we can’t change the whole world, we can change tiny pieces of it. We can change the small part of the universe around us. We may not be able to save millions, but we may be able to save one.
It’s the small scale that counts—doing the little things in a big way. Maybe one day my daughter will cure cancer or end hunger and make it rain in the desert. Maybe she will fight for peace where there is war and teach people to replace hate with love. But in the meantime, she can smile at a stranger and say hello. She can plant a flower where there is only muddy soil. She can choose to believe and not doubt.
In the end, that’s all we can do.