In my look back over the year, I felt an honest satisfaction with what I was able to accomplish. Then I watched the documentary RBG and thought, “I have done nothing of value in my life!”
Of course, I know that’s not wholly so and that “compare and despair” is a habit to avoid. But still. When Ruth Bader Ginsburg writes a Dissent on the Supreme Court, the whole of America shakes and trembles, stands up and takes notice. If I write a similar sentiment on this Blogpost, a handful of people read it and go on with their day.
Let me be clear. This is not envy or jealousy. What Ms. Ginsburg has accomplished came from a long, patient dedication, using the whole of her intelligence and social skills and refusal to let anger and outrage cloud her work. She is worthy of every ounce of adoration that she has earned and continues to earn and I join the throngs of her admirers.
But it did make me feel that my own work of giving children and adults some pleasure in making music and some feeling of being connected to others and some sense of being appreciated for their uniqueness seem somewhat small and insignificant by comparison.
When I’m in this frame of mind, I remember Gary Snyder’s Zen teacher saying to him, “Sweep the garden—any size.” So it’s not only about the quantity of your contribution to some healing and justice in this world, it’s about the quality and the effort and the sense that each small contribution helps. A music teacher’s voice is a tiny whisper compared to the might roar of a Supreme Court Justice, but still it counts. It reminded me of a poem I wrote when I turned 60:
PEBBLE IN A POND
At 20 years old, I was confident, cocky, sure
that the boulder
I would heave into the mainstream
would make a big splash in the world.
Each decade, the stone
and the stream
At 60, that once-big splash a mere pebble
in a small pond.
But still it makes ripples, tiny rings
that circle outwards
and sometimes reach the shore
of someone’s life about to be changed.
Here’s to yet another year of tossing pebbles in the pond.