“A quiet secluded life in the country, with the possibility of being useful to people to whom it is easy to do good, and who are not accustomed to have it done to them; then work which one hopes may be of some use; then rest, nature, books, music, love for one's neighbor — such is my idea of happiness.”
― Leo Tolstoy Family Happiness
Today my roommate and I saw a very interesting documentary. This post isn't the place to get into what it was about, but while we were talking about the film at lunch we discovered there was one line in it that jumped out at us both. It more or less stated that whatever you think is the most important cause in the world right now is the one you should be working at (and if you aren't, why not?!) It struck us both because, while we both have strong feelings and opinions on many world and societal issues, there isn't really one grand cause in particular that we feel particularly well-suited to make much of a difference in (based on our individual abilities and influence). I don't mean this to sound defeatist. I also don't want to downplay the AMAZING work being done by incredible civic leaders and inspired activists, many of whom start out as unqualified as I am, or the need to be involved in larger community causes. I just want to explain how the limit to my influence, which limits what I am able to actually DO, actually inspires me -- but in a very different direction.
I know it goes against the assurance of the american dream that anyone can do anything they work hard for. I know it goes against the idealistic motto that with God all things are possible. It's not that I don't see the reasoning behind these ideas and agree with them to a degree -- it's just that I'm also a bit of a realist and when it all comes down to it, I understand the limits of my capacities, my context, and that God's will often involves me operating within these constraints. And I don't see this as a bad thing.
Bigger causes often seem more important than those that are on limited and more intimate scale. But but small in scale doesn't equal small in influence.
I started of this post with that quote by Tolstoy not just because it is also MY "idea of happiness"* but because it is also my idea of my cause -- of my purpose and source of satisfaction (which ultimately contributes to happiness). I don't have the ethos to affect change on a grand scale. I do have a little bit of credibility however with a few close friends and my immediate family. These are the ones I can influence for good in a just cause. Within my small circle is good I can do, unique to my abilities and the particular conditions of the situation. There is useful work that doesn't change the world at large but does affect the world of those around me. There is love to be nurtured with individuals for whom that love can be life-shaping.
I have come to the realization that limits are as God-given as capacities. Mine have placed me in a unique position to understand the beauty and meaning in serving the causes found within "a quiet secluded life" and of the special focus on intimate associations it affords.
I will always want to find ways to make a difference in the bigger causes that I care about and I hope I can find and do them. But, I also hope to never let that diminish meaning I find the modest work I do to make a difference to those few God has placed within my sphere.
*as a side note: that quote really does encapsulate perfectly my IDEAL of happiness. Beauty, culture, service, work, love -- all the BEST of this life. I feel I could devote a whole post just to expounding on how how the truth of Tolstoy's words resonates with me!