“… And whoever saves a single life is considered by Scripture to have saved the whole world.” (Sanhedrin 37a, Babylonian Talmud)
On April 15, 1945, my mother was liberated by the British Army in the Bergen-Belsen death camp. The camp had been divided between men and women. My mother and her aunt searched among the dying and dead on the men’s side to possibly find relatives who may have survived. Recognizing a familiar face, my mother told her aunt that she had known this young man as her brother’s childhood friend. Against her aunt’s advice, my mother and her aunt picked up this young man and saved him from certain death. Five years later, my mother and this young man were married. When she describes her heroic act, my mother always mentions the quote above regarding the impact of saving a single life. Indeed, because of her heroic act, my family came into being and is now seeing a fourth generation. One person chose to act in a most difficult time. I call this the ‘Power of One’.
As we follow the lightning speed of increasingly difficult news during this COVID-19 pandemic I’ve been inspired by acts of selflessness and caring by so many people on so many different fronts. The healthcare workers who are fighting the front-line battle to save tens of thousands of lives are creating a legendary story that will be told for many years to come. The first responders including paramedics, police officers and firefighters who are risking their own lives to carry out their duties on a daily basis continue to amaze us even as many of them have contracted the virus. And until now, people who are usually considered every day workers going about their daily business have become true heroes in this unfolding drama. They are the supermarket employees, truck and transit drivers, and pharmacists who are out there every day making sure that all of us have or receive our basic needs while we stay at home. There are the pop-up volunteers putting themselves at personal risk while delivering food and basic needs. Each of these individuals is expressing the ‘Power of One’ because each action they take, no matter the risk, will make a difference for all of our lives. Their actions are keeping us all safe and alive and we must recognize that.
While you’re practicing social distancing and staying safely at home how can you express your own ‘Power of One’? How can you make a significant contribution that will impact everybody else? The answer is you’re already contributing by practicing self-isolation in your home. You’re making a small but important impact on flattening the pandemic curve so fewer people become sick and the system can treat those who require intensive care. But why stop there? There’s more you can personally contribute which will help your neighbours, community and country survive this crisis. Ask yourself what skills and abilities you have that could be useful to help others? Do you have any talents or experience that can be utilized for the greater good? You might be a parent caring for your children while self-isolating at home or you’re working from home now and your daily hours are filled with activities. Nevertheless, many of you do have more time on your hands then you’ve had for years. You can fill your time with Netflix or Amazon Prime but is there more you can do? Ask yourself, “What is the best of me and how can I apply it right now to make a difference?” Many people feel very isolated and alone right now. Can you spend more time reaching out to others by phone, text or video call? Can you check in on those less fortunate or the elderly and make sure they’re okay? Or can you help organize innovative ideas right out of your own home to lift the spirits of others? Explore your creative side. Through your talent and your caring, you can make a difference!
The ‘Power of One’ is not only an external expression, but it also reflects internally on how you’re navigating this pandemic. Sir Isaac Newton went into self-isolation during the Great Plague of London in 1665. Over an 18-month period, Newton, a young 23-year-old mathematics student at Cambridge, produced new laws of physics which we continue to apply today. He considered this to be the most intellectually productive period of his life. During our current experience of social distancing you may not be expected to come up with historical scientific breakthroughs or new explanations for age-old conundrums. But you have the mental capacity and potential to make changes in your own life which will impact you for years to come. Consider this sudden amount of free time to be an unwanted but nevertheless present-day gift. What can you do with this time? What can you create for yourself? What are the things you’ve wanted to do for the longest time, but have been so busy you never get to them? What improvements in relationships have you been trying to work on that you now have time to explore? Perhaps you’ve always wanted to write a book or poetry. Or maybe you’ve wanted to study music, learn a new hobby or teach yourself a new skill. You can apply your ‘Power of One’ in so many different ways. Each of you has this potential. Now’s a great time to discover it.
Many people are currently saying that we’ve entered a transformative stage in our society and our personal lives. Life is so uncertain right now and even the future beyond this pandemic contains many unanswered questions. One thing is certain though. Each of you possesses your own ‘Power of One’. You have the innate ability to make a difference in the lives of others and in your own life as well. If each of you explores this potential and acts on it, humanity will survive these challenging times and will move to the future stronger than ever!