If you’ve ever listened to motivation gurus, one of their favourite techniques is to begin by talking about regrets. They ask you to imagine what it would be like to grow old, your memories filled with nothing but remorse for all the things you didn’t do when you were younger. Unfortunately, whether they intend it or not, the message they’re sending is that unless you do amazing things all your life, you’re insignificant. It’s a lie.
It has been five years since one of my best friends died at age fifty-one. He came to Canada from Laos in his early teens, after spending two years in a refugee camp in Thailand with his family. He struggled learning English, which may have been due to a hearing impairment that was discovered later in life. He had a hard life, and never achieved the kind of success that most people would describe as “making history.” But, he did make history, just as we all do.
You can think of time as a river, and each of us is a stone in that river. As each person is born, he or she is added to the river. When someone dies, he or she is removed from the river. My friend was in the that river, influencing how it flowed for fiftfy-one years. One of my aunts, if she survives just two more weeks, will have influenced the flow for one hundred years.
If you look at a river, the larger stones may be more visible, but where the river flows is ultimately determined by the influence of all the stones in the river combined. When we think of great battles, we often focus on the leaders, but aircraft don’t fly unless someone fills their tanks with fuel, soldiers don’t have the energy to fight unless they have been fed, and ships don’t head to sea, unless someone keeps the egines running.
Let’s not forget that just like every stone in a river has an impact on the flow of water, every one of us has an influence on the flow of history. You don’t have to be on the cover of an entertainment magazine, have a bestselling novel or an Oscar winning screenplay to be significant. If you’re reading this essay, then you’re still in the river, influencing the flow of time. Keep writing, make some history.
Copyright © 2021 by J. Paul Cooper