What can one person do? Can I change the world? We’ve all probably asked that question once or twice in our lives. With roughly seven billion people alive on our planet at any one time, it’s hard to imagine that the actions of one person can make much of a difference. But maybe we set our sights too high.
We’re aware that we are all mortal. The death of a loved one causes sadness and alters the lives of those left behind in some way, maybe large, or maybe small—it’s not the same without them. But for all but a small percentage of humans, the effect of our lives does not reach particularly far. Very few people leave a legacy of having changed world history. Certainly Jesus tops that list, but I think we could add Martin Luther, and in the past few generations, I’d argue for Dr. King, Neil Armstrong, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, and a handful of others.
But do we have to change the world to, you know, change The World? Let me tell you about Jeremiah James. Jeremiah is an actor, and I would bet a buck or two that that is a stage name. In August of 2019, to celebrate her 89th birthday, my two sisters and I and members of our three families took my mother to the Guthrie Theatre to see the musical “Guys and Dolls.” It’s a fun show that is a regular of the high school and amateur community theatre repertoire. There’s a movie version from 1955 that starred Marlon Brando, Jean Simmons and Frank Sinatra, among others. Songs like “Luck Be a Lady Tonight” and “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat” are still memorable. The Guthrie version was fabulous. No exploding theatrical effects, no dazzling light shows, just a great performance by the cast and the musicians, backed by a well-practiced stage crew.
Jeremiah James played the role of Sky Masterson that night, the part Brando played in the movie (in case you’re wondering, yes, Brando sang his own songs in the movie). It’s a demanding part with singing and dancing, and no doubt the actor was worn out after every performance. Since Mom’s mobility wasn’t great, by the time we reached the lobby, some of the cast was exiting from the dressing room. Jeremiah stopped to talk to a group of folks, actually also from Buffalo, and I stuck my head in and said how much we enjoyed the show and that we appreciated the chance to provide Mom with a special birthday.
With that Jeremiah quickly excused himself from the other Buffalo group (sorry, folks!) and insisted on coming over. He greeted Mom, kissed her hand, and posed for a picture (right). I won’t swear that Mom understood who he was without his makeup or costume, but for the rest of the family it put whipped cream and a cherry on top of a giant sundae of a night.
It would be Mom’s last birthday.
In November 2019, just before Thanksgiving, Mom died after a short illness. A few weeks ago, on this most recent Mother’s Day, my oldest sister posted a picture of Mom and the family at the Guthrie, and I was reminded of the photo on page 5, and what Jeremiah had gone out of his way to give. Did he change The World? No, but he changed our world that night, for the better, and by sharing the story, I hope others can be inspired to follow his example.
It can feel overwhelming to look around and see the many issues that need to be addressed locally and globally. In response to the love God has shown us, we as Christians are called to do whatever we can to serve our neighbors near and far. The people of Zion have a long history of supporting local mission like the food shelf, Love INC, and the Blessing Closet. And Zion reaches around the globe through Harvest of Hands, Mission Jamaica, Villages of Hope, and other ministries. Some Zion folks are able to travel and provide hands-on work, others support financially, and hopefully all of us keep these and all our outreach ministries in our prayers. We can achieve a lot individually and as a community.
But we won’t be able to do it all. And that’s okay, too. Sometimes it’s enough to pull our minds back from The World and focus on our small corner of it. Sometimes all we can control is the immediate circle around us, but if I improve my circle, and you improve your circle, and others improve their circle, pretty soon a lot of space has been improved.
Jeremiah James may not even remember that night almost two years ago. Mom and my family are some of the hundreds of people he’s met and interacted with in his career. But through his kindness, he made a difference for ten strangers that night, and it’s a lasting reminder to me how a small gesture can have a huge impact.