This past weekend, I had occasion to spend time with a dear friend from high school, who has always impressed me with how calm and how at peace he is with himself. He has rarely, if ever, striven to be accepted by others; rather, he has always seemed so content with his own decisions and confident in himself that he inspires confidence in you. He truly leads the life of the mind, reading prodigiously and thinking reflectively. Equally important, he logically makes sure that his ideas, words, actions, and habits improve himself and his world.
On Saturday, after service to the community in the form of a Humane Society fun run/walk and service at a community board meeting, he and I stepped into his new car: a Tesla. For those of you unfamiliar with the car, take a look at this website: http://www.teslamotors.com/. This electric car is amazing, and after deep research, he determined to purchase one for his family. The car is beautifully designed and looks and feels and rides like any late model sedan, but it differs from all of them, for it is an electric car, a fully electric car.
My friend probably has many reasons for purchasing the car, but the one that struck me is that he truly wants to improve his world, and he believes that he can do it by beginning with his own choices: on his roof, facing south, he has solar panels; he’s purchased community land where solar panels can rest to help secure energy for other persons in the community; he wastes almost nothing, using and reusing tin foil, and he wears his clothes until they are threads. Polonius from Hamlet might opine that “the apparel doth oft proclaim the man,” but my friend has always believed that who you are is greater than who you portray yourself to be. One’s character is greater than one’s presentation of self.
My time with him reminded me that we can best improve our world, by taking actions in our own lives that improve our lives. As we discussed this concept, he shared with me the old saw about the monk who walked the earth barefoot and cursed the ground for being so hard on his feet. As he planned to cover the entire planet in leather, so that his feet could walk with ease, he discovered a simpler, more practical solution: shoes. I think in our rush to improve our world, to swallow it whole, we seek solutions that may have a global impact, but are potentially impractical. You probably know this perfect story of focusing on the present and saving what is right before you:
Once upon a time, there was an old man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach every morning before he began his work. Early one morning, he was walking along the shore after a big storm had passed and found the vast beach littered with starfish as far as the eye could see, stretching in both directions.
Off in the distance, the old man noticed a small boy approaching. As the boy walked, he paused every so often and as he grew closer, the man could see that he was occasionally bending down to pick up an object and throw it into the sea. The boy came closer still and the man called out, “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”
The young boy paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up onto the beach and they can’t return to the sea by themselves,” the youth replied. “When the sun gets high, they will die, unless I throw them back into the water.”
The old man replied, “But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.”
The boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned, smiled and said, “It made a difference to that one!”
This oft told story reminds me of the lyrics from a hymn I love: “Let there be peace on earth / And let it begin with me….Let peace begin with me / Let this be the moment now. / With every step I take / Let this be my solemn vow. / To take each moment / And live each moment / With peace eternally.” In your life, let there be peace, and let it begin with you.