09 May 2010

Day 43: The Graveyard Book

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. ISBN 9780061551895 (audiobook).

"You're alive, Bod. That means you have infinite potential. You can do anything, make anything, dream anything. If you can change the world, the world will change. Potential. Once you're dead, it's gone. Over. You've made what you've made, dreamed your dream, written your name. You may be buried here, you may even walk. But that potential is finished."

How can Gaiman write stuff like this?  I want to write something this insightful and beautiful.  Of course, if I ever do only about ten of you will ever read it and only after pestering you.  I have lived with something similar to this sentiment for over five years now.  The words that Horace Mann, Antioch College's first president, left us with where these, "Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity."  While it may not seem so similar on the surface, it's a plea to struggle to live and do until you can't anymore.

I've always interpreted Mann's words a little differently than other people.  I don't think he meant we have to make an incredible discovery or be Nobel Peace Prize material.  We're talking about humanity, and that's a much smaller thing than the world at large.  To me, a victory for humanity can be something as small as teaching a child a lifelong skill they will carry with them, or living in a way that inspires other people.  Most of us can't affect great change in the world; but if a few of us inspire a few more, that will eventually spread.  I think the real message behind Mann's words is to not give up until it's over, you'll never know if that last act will be the one that makes a difference.

We have so much potential as individuals.  I find it so difficult to watch as certain people, particularly people close to me, waste it.  Whether or not you have a job that "means anything," there are things that you can be doing that will infinitely change the quality of life for someone else.  There are so many volunteer opportunities out there, small amounts of money can go a long way in many organizations that do a lot of good, even just writing your opinions and opening up your thought process may get someone else to start thinking about  running for politics or finishing that science experiment they wrote about in college.  You don't know how your life will affect someone else, but I can tell you one thing: you won't do much if the only influence you have on someone is a brief encounter at McDonald's or as a voice on Counter Strike.  Be active, seek out opportunities to change the world, however small a change it might be.

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