NOTES FROM A GUESTBOOK
A lesson from a teacher I never had
CaringBridge is an interesting website.
It’s a great one, and the inventive mind behind it is commendable, but it’s also a website you never really want to visit.
I discovered the site last year, following a friend’s accident. If you’re not familiar, CaringBridge is a website that allows people who have been hospitalized, or are sick, or are undergoing surgery, etc. to keep tabs with friends and loved ones. It allows the closest relatives of the patients to provide updates on their status.
One of the best features on CaringBridge is a guestbook for visitors to write in.
When I got the news that someone I once (barely) knew had entered the final stages of his bout cancer, I began to see links to his CaringBridge page pop up all over my news feed. He was someone I had never met, but he worked at my high school while I was a student, so I definitely knew his name and face. I wound up reading through some of the things people from the community said to him.
It was definitely intense. The one thing I truly gathered, though, from the numerous posts to his guestbook, was the impact he made on those on his community.
Not long ago, Bob Goff posted a quote I really liked. “I used to worry I wouldn’t make enough money. Now I worry about not making enough of an impact.”
And I was looking at the guestbook of a guy who definitely made quite an impact. His former students remembered his sense of humor, how he excelled at teaching, and his little quirks, like his banjo skills. His former colleagues looked up to him, and recounted moments where they asked for his guidance and he delivered. Each and every post helped expand the picture I had of this guy I hadn’t even really met. He lived simply, he was a man of faith, and he loved what he did. And the people that impacted knew it.
I’m being made even more aware of how strongly correlated the times where I’ve been actively pursuing and deepening relationships are with the moments I’ve felt the most satisfaction and personal growth. This very much extends to my faith. My closeness to people grew right alongside my relationship with God.
The thing is, this all has been active.
Passive relationship building is the equivalent of just getting by.
And of course we’ve been hurt by relationships before. Some have even been harmful. Butthe biggest damage they can perhaps do is leading us to close our doors to new relationships.
So don’t let that happen. Go find someone you think is just straight up interesting and tell them. Hang out with him or her. And skip the “we should hang out sometime” step, just go right ahead and hang out.
But when you’re seeking, building, and investing in relationships, you are living as you were meant to.
In short, you’re living.
See, I’d consider myself pretty ambitious. Even though I don’t yet know the full picture of what I want to do in life, I’d like for it to be big. I’d love to be part of a lasting change in how the world operates. And I’d love to do something on a global scale. Believe me.
But one doesn’t necessarily have to be a superstar humanitarian or start the next great nonprofit in order to have a big impact. And that’s what I started to realize through this guestbook. You don’t need to go any further than your immediate community to take a gander at the sort of impact you’re making. And if you’re missing out on your immediate community, I’m not sure if you’d have the foundation to do something globally.
You want to do emergency medical work in the rural areas of a third world country? Are you already finding ways to help the sick where you are?
You want to help alleviate world hunger? Who was the last person you made a meal for? (Or at least bought one for, if cooking just ain’t yo thang.)
See, a lot of what really counts is in what happens day to day. I know I’m tempted a lot of times to gloss over the intricate details of my daily life in grand anticipation of the years to come. I can’t wait to graduate so I can hunt down an abroad internship that lets me join the fight against human trafficking, until I maybe go to grad school so I can be even more equipped to fight it. Sometimes it’s tempting to view all the papers, finals, tests, exams, work shifts, and meetings as just items I need to cross off a checklist before I can get to that point.
But I don’t think that’s how it’s done. See, I think if I want to effectively make that impact, it’s got to be out of Love. And Love isn’t just some explosive mode I need to enter when doing a grand humanitarian effort, it’s something that can and should dictate daily interactions.
Things like the way I relate to my housemates. Or how well I perform in school. Or the way I’ll coach my students next quarter. Or how far I’m willing to go to show care to a complete stranger.
So here’s a plan, and I’m writing this largely as a note to myself. Keep meeting new people. Keep pursuing knowing the people you already know deeper. And don’t let passivity be an excuse.
Take chances with relationships.
Impact comes from the intricate details. What people will end up remembering about you the most is less likely to be from that “shining moment of glory” you can list on your bio.
More likely, it’ll come from a random, typical, ordinary day, when you least expect it.