December 2, 2013 1 Comment
Today’s Google Doodle honors the late opera singer Maria Callas on what would have been her 90th birthday. The announcer on classical station WEMC noted that Callas changed an art form. That made me think of others who changed art forms or other significant parts of all our lives. I immediately thought of Alfred Stieglitz. He not only changed but created an art form of photography, which up to that time had been considered only a novelty. And then there is painter Georgia O’Keefe, the pioneer of American modernism, who changed our impressions of so many things, especially the colorful Southwest United States.
I could list many more famous names: Pablo Picasso, Alexander Graham Bell, Galileo, Truman Capote, Steve Jobs, William Wilberforce and Martin Luther King, Mary O’Sullivan, Jonas Salk and Louis Pasteur…….The list is as long as the opportunities to change something.
Change is inevitable, but how we mold, encourage and facilitate change is endlessly varied. To change something is innate to our humanness. In fact, we all have the capacity to alter something — or someone. It is, in fact, life’s easiest and most beneficial opportunity.
I am endlessly surprised and inspired by people who change lives with their own effort, with their work, their compassion, their generosity or their talents. Closer to home, last week’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was a glowing demonstration of how Pat Rooney and now Scott Rikkers have changed lives. They altered Madison’s perception of what a marching band could be, and I have no doubt that every student musician who has ever performed with the Marching Royal Dukes in one of the three Macy’s parade appearances left changed in some way.
Lisa Shull (’85, ’91M) has changed a community with her work with the Explore More Discovery Museum. There are long lists of JMU professors, many included in Madison magazine’s award-winning feature Professors You Love, who have changed lives. In the newest magazine, you can read about how history professor Steve Reich changed the life of student Michelle Amaya (’14). And there are hundreds of alumni changing lives everyday in classrooms, offices, mission fields, homes and neighborhoods.
While there are thousands and thousands of people any of us could list, perhaps it’s best to ask a question: What is our own capacity? We can’t all change an art form or invent a medical miracle or lead an award-winning band, but on a personal level, we are all capable of changing another life for a moment, a day or a lifetime. I know how often an encouraging word has lifted a day for me, how an unexpected kindness has made me feel better — or what it means for someone to come alongside when you’re hurting or stressed and just listen. There are opportunities everyday to brighten another person’s day — an overworked clerk, a restaurant server, a co-worker, a parent, a friend, a stranger. Only the Scroogiest among us can’t do that. I pity them.
So as the Thanksgiving season morphs into the Christmas season, here’s a challenge: Be deliberate. Find a way, big or small, to change someone’s day — or life. There is no shortage of opportunities with 31 days left in 2013. Make it count. Be that person who takes every opportunity to change lives.