Looking through an old photo album. Really old. And there’s a picture of my father, holding a baby that turns out to have been me. And what draws me in to the picture are his eyes as he’s looking at me. You may have seen this expression before–part joy, part fear, part awestruck responsibility, part hope and excitement. And all the parts add up to a certain knowledge that, in that moment, everything is changed.
I remember that moment from my own life, when my daughter was born and I held her and looked into her little face. Everything was different, in a good way, a way that was calling a better self out of me. I knew she needed me, would need me from here on, in ways I couldn’t even imagine. And I knew, with that same certainty, what I was going to do about it: whatever it takes.
I was reading an article the other day by a colleague in campus ministry. Talking about how students today are concerned about whether they’ll have the opportunity, the skill, the determination, the whatever to “change the world.” They want to feel like they’ll have an impact.
I get this–it’s a big world with a lot of problems, and it needs all the changing it can get. Periodically we remind ourselves of this, by celebrating the lives and work of the remarkable people who have changed the world before us. And I think sometimes we allow ourselves to be not inspired, but intimidated by their example.
What I want our students to know is that they will change the world. They’ve changed it already, and they’re changing it every day–just like I changed my father’s world, just like my daughter changed mine. Just by being there and needing, at the beginning; then by asking hard questions, then by doubting the answers, then by casting visions and dreaming dreams and putting their backs into the hard work what they care about requires. Asking whether one will have a chance to change the world is, I’m convinced, asking the wrong question.
The right question, the one we ask here at UCM all the time, is “How will you change the world?” What vision of the world will your time and effort and passion and energy move us toward? Because it’s going to move us. We’re moved by the free meals that are served, and by the couches that are burned; by the impassioned calls for justice, and by thoughtless consumption and waste. And eventually, at the end of our moving, we can only hope to be satisfied with, rather than ashamed of, our answer to the hard question asked of us by that child we held, the one who needed us in her helplessness: “How did you change the world for me?” Through our work together, let us write our best answer–over and over again, as many times as it takes.