04 August 2008

One Person Does Make A Difference Sometimes.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn died yesterday. I only ever read his first book, “One Day In the Life of Ivan Denisovich,” but that book changed Russia. “A great writer,” the obit said, “is a secret government in his country.”

Last week a deranged man assassinated people in a church because of that church’s values. It remains to be seen if he makes a difference in the country. I suspect not, but he made a difference in those lives and in that church.

One can make a great difference for good or a great difference for evil, I hasten to remind. And the effect that a person has, even their having such great effects, depends on other factors at work. Had not Nikita Khrushchev allowed “Denisovich” to be published, Solzhenitsyn would have remained a high school teacher with a lot of writings. Had not Atkisson’s ex-wife been part of the church years before he might not have known about it or its principles.

The visible actor may be one person, but the situation is full of actors: other people, the culture, the accidents of time and opportunity. Ultimately, we all take part in moments that seem to be about a single person.

That’s a disturbing thought. Whoever said “if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem” was right. Which is why that other fellow was right who said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men (sic) to do nothing.”

Doing nothing is perhaps the original sin. We are all caught in MLK’s web of mutual interdependence. If few of us will appear in the spotlight of history, we all help point that spotlight and either join the cheering or the jeering. Few times give us such a clear reminder than decisions made now by all, not just a few, can have immense consequences. “No one has the right to sit down and feel hopeless,” Dorothy Day observed. That’s the path to doing nothing. “There is simply too much work to be done.”

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