Building on (and Creating) a Legacy
A lot of people I know who do different kinds of work to bring more love, justice, truth, compassion, and beauty into the world can be kind of (or a lot...) idealistic. They see a vision for a more beautiful way the world could be (even if just in a particular area), and seek to be a part of moving us toward that. Part of what goes along with this sometimes is a sense of personal responsibility to make it happen - as if it's all up to ourselves as individuals (or as one lone individual) to change the world in some very significant way. Yes, it's kind of arrogant, egotistical, and false - but it's also an easy mindset to fall into when we are busy, or task-oriented, or don't take time for prayer or reflection. It can feel like a heavy burden, and honestly can sometimes result in feeling overwhelmed and stuck. I've been there.
As I think about some of my own passions and callings, in particular for creating communities (and a world in general) where people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are fully included, their gifts recognized and celebrated, and where they're welcomed as true, valued friends, I see some ways that will be a long, uphill climb. And when the focus is on this drastically different, idealistic future, it can create a sense of impatience or even a sense of failure when it seems such a long way off. It can be a good way to set the course and think strategically about what to do and how to do it, but if the focus is always on the very far-off goal it can also be discouraging.
People often ask me what interested me in disability in the first place, and what led me to the work I do. And while the whole, long story can wait for another post, part of the answer is that when I was in high school I spent a couple class periods a week volunteering and hanging out in the special education class, and formed some friendships there. So that's usually where I start the story - but I've never totally understood what led me to spend time in that class in the first place. In part I just chalk it up to the nudging of the Holy Spirit, but I realize there were probably some other tangible factors that predisposed me to make that choice too; and one of those was the show Life Goes On (and probably a lot of various other TV episodes or after school specials that first exposed me to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities).
So as I was stretching my hamstrings last week and thinking about building on a legacy, I thought about the part the people who made the show Life Goes On have played in my own story. Maybe they didn't realize they would be a link in a chain that eventually led someone 25 years later to decide to experiment with starting a church that's collaboratively led by people with and without intellectual and developmental disabilities; but that's a role they did play by doing their own work - of creating a TV show - that they felt led and called to do in this world.
That perspective helps me to realize that my work is also just one link in an ongoing chain. While I'm building on the work of others, other people in the future will also build on my work. It's like that famous quotation by Rabbi Tarfon:
Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world's grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.
Add to this the deeper theological reality that God is also at work, both through our own work and beyond it; and takes the various broken pieces we offer and multiplies them and expands them and redeems them. There is freedom in that - to contribute what we can as the particular people God made us to be; and to trust that through our work God will continue to do more than we can even perceive now, and link our works to the works of others to continue to bring more love and light into our world in a way that goes beyond any one of us - but also uses the best of our own contributions.