Made a Difference to That One

Made a Difference to That One

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Reader's Choice 20th Anniversary Edition

Made a Difference to That One

Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.

~William James

Twenty years ago — in the very first Chicken Soup for the Soul book ever published — I read a story by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen that changed me forever. The story was entitled “One At A Time.” Its message? Just because you can’t save the whole world doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to make a little piece of it better.

Through the years, I was reminded of that message every time I helped a kid learn to dribble a basketball. Every time I delivered homemade oatmeal raisin cookies to a nursing home. Every time I picked up litter or took in a homeless kitten or let somebody who seemed more hurried and harried than I go ahead of me in the grocery checkout line.

But the message hit the hardest the summer Caroline came into my life.

She was standing in ninety-degree heat in the parking lot of the tiny branch library I’d just been hired to manage. “Hey,” she said, as I fumbled to unlock the door. “Are you the new library lady?”

“I am,” I told her. “Who are you?”

“Caroline,” she said. “And I just turned ten.”

Hmmmmm, I thought. Caroline was certainly the smallest ten-year-old I’d ever seen. But it was clear that she could read, for she had obviously noted the sign on the door that said: CHILDREN LESS THAN TEN YEARS MUST BE ACCOMPANIED BY A PARENT.

“Come on in here where it’s cool, Caroline,” I said. “Let’s see if we can find you some good books.”

We did. And because not one other patron entered the library for the first two hours it was open, we had plenty of time to enjoy those books. I read to Caroline for a while and then she read to me. I helped her find kid-friendly games to play on the computer. I showed her where the restroom and the water fountain were. But as morning became afternoon, my stomach began to growl. I’d brought a sack lunch — when you’re running a one-person operation, there’s no going out for a meal — but I hated to eat in front of Caroline.

“Don’t you think you ought to head home and get some lunch?” I finally asked.

Her eyes narrowed and she shook her head. “Nobody’s home at my house.”

“Did your parents leave you something to eat?”

“My mom locks the door every morning when she goes to work. She won’t be home till dark.”

I turned away so that Caroline wouldn’t see the tears welling up in my eyes. And, of course, I shared my bologna sandwich and tangerine and Little Debbie oatmeal creme pie with her. She stayed at the library all day. And as I watched her curled up in the yellow bean bag chair in the cool quiet, reading about Clifford the Big Red Dog and Horton the Elephant and Amelia Bedelia, I couldn’t help but wonder how many other children there were in this little town and in this big world, locked out and lonely and left to fend for themselves.

There were millions, no doubt. Just thinking about them made me want to weep. To gnash my teeth. To wring my hands in despair. How could I possibly make a dent in such a problem? Then I remembered the story of the man walking along the beach, picking up starfish and throwing them — one at a time — back into the ocean so they wouldn’t die.

Every day, that whole summer long, Caroline was waiting for me when I pulled into the library parking lot and climbed out of my car holding two sack lunches. She’d help me unlock the door and turn on the lights and fire up the computers. And then she’d plop down in the yellow beanbag chair and grin at me.

“Let’s start with Horton Hatches the Egg,” she’d say.

It’s true. One library lady in one little town couldn’t make a difference to every child on the mean streets of this planet. But I could make a difference to one.

~Jennie Ivey

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