Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Places We Can Reach

For the past several days, it's been impossible to get online or go out in public without hearing about Joe Paterno. People are upset that abuse went unaddressed for so long; some are sad, some are sickened, some are outraged. Some urge one another not to rush to judgment and examine records and transcripts trying to decide with whom the true fault lies

I can't help thinking that it's all a waste of time and energy.

There are people within the system who need to analyze that information to figure out how things went so horribly wrong and make sure it never happens again. I'm not one of them. Probably, you're not either. And while people like us are investing so much energy and outrage and emotion in something that happened long ago and far away, real people are sitting right next to us with real, present needs.

Twenty years ago or so, when I was still in school, a middle-aged woman told me that the world was too big and too full of problems for her to fix, and that all she could do was light her little corner of it and hope that some of that light and warmth spilled out and shone on someone else.

I, of course, still believed that I could save the world; it's what I was going to school for. I thought she was rationalizing, that what she offered was simply an excuse to live her comfortable life and not worry about those outside "her little corner". And, as an adult, I've certainly seen people make that sort of rationalization. But now that I'm middle-aged myself and have both made a run at saving the world and narrowed my focus to raise a family, I think I understand better what she meant.

I think she meant to say that we can't undo the damage someone far away might have done to a child years ago, however much we might like to. But we can make a difference in the lives of those around us, and they can make a difference in their own circles, and in that way our light and warmth can spread far and wide. And that, surely, serves a greater purpose than joining the tens of thousands of voices on the Internet arguing about how much culpability Joe Paterno might have and who should have been fired along with him or in his place. That, surely, serves a greater purpose than sinking into depression at the ugliness in the world that sometimes seems too big to combat--or even contemplate.

Maybe the best thing we can do, every day, is simply to love the people we can reach--or reach further for people to love.

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