Earthquakes, Neil Armstrong and Brownies
It’s been the summer of earthquakes here in southern California. In fact, just this afternoon a magnitude 4.1 quake with an epicenter just 10 miles away rocked and rolled its way into my life. If you live around here, probably felt it.
Any time an earthquake hits, the overwhelming feeling I have is one of being very small. With the earth shifting and shaking beneath me, my sturdily built home suddenly seems fragile, as if built of Popsicle sticks and Elmer’s glue. And in comparison to the massive strength of two tectonic plates shifting, it may as well be.
I don’t really get nervous during earthquakes. Native Californians take them in stride, but that doesn’t mean they don’t remind me of my tiny place in the grand scheme of things.
This week marked the passing of Neil Armstrong, a veritable hero, the first man to step on soil not of this earth. In remembering him and his walk on the moon 238,900 miles away, I am again reminded of how small we are in this vast universe of stars and planets and space.
It’s hard not to be touched by Armstrong’s reluctance to be called a hero. He’s known for seeing himself as a very small part of an enterprise that thousands of people made possible. He recognized his smallness, and perhaps he more than anyone who has ever lived, recognizes his smallness in the vastness of the universe.
Yes, we are small. Each of us leaves just one set of footprints in our walk through life, and only a few will put their footprints anywhere other than on this planet.
And therefore what? Are we so small that what we do doesn’t matter?
In the midst of a week full of earthquakes and a hero’s death and the mundane chores of life and work, the moments that stand out to me are those of small, unexpected gestures made by individuals.
- A box of brownies in my mailbox sent by a colleague I met just once at a business event.
- A compliment paid by an old friend (she said I haven’t changed a bit in 20 years—not true, but kind!).
- A gesture of help in completing something difficult that I never would have asked help for.
- A thank you from a neighbor for a piece of advice I offered that turned out to be just what was needed.
Yes, you are only one, but you ARE one. And what you do matters.
I’m sure that none of the people who touched my life this week are aware of the bright spot each of them was. Or know the domino effect their kindnesses have had and will continue to have. Perhaps they feel small, like I feel small. But their tiny gestures have made an impression and have the potential to have a long and lasting impact.
Just two weeks before Neil Armstrong died, he sent an email to an 11-year-old boy whose parents had both died. The boy had written an essay about them and how he thinks of them when he looks at the moon. And how his greatest wish is “to meet Neil Armstrong, the world’s Number One space hero.”
Armstrong wrote and wished the young author good luck and success. It thrilled the boy, of course. The lasting impact that letter might have on a young life is arguably as important as the impact of his being the first person to step foot on the moon.
My favorite part of that story is what the little boy said to his adoptive mother: “’Mom, you’re my hero for sending him my essay.”
This week, your challenge is to look for opportunities to do small things for others. Don’t worry about whether they’ll have lasting impact. Don’t think about whether they’ll help your reputation, your business, or your bottom line. Just keep your eyes open for opportunities to do something kind, and then do it. You just may end up someone’s hero or rock someone’s world (in a good way!).