“I can change only myself, but sometimes that is enough.” -Ruth Humleker

This message was tucked quietly inside a fill-it-in journal my daughter received for her last birthday. I was flipping lazily through the book, noting finished puzzles and clever drawings, and almost missed this requisite page. I wondered how many elementary aged kids could define adequate. I was struck by the profundity of  the simple sentence. To tell a child, to tell anyone, that they are awesome, that they are powerful, that they are enough, is a gift.

We share many traits as members of humanity, including our most basic fears. Has there ever been a human that didn’t wonder whether or not they were adequate?
Is what I have enough?
Is what I do enough?
Am I enough?
We are quick to tell our loved ones that they have earned all the wonderful things in their life, that they don’t deserve the bad. How often do we believe that of ourselves?

We accrue possessions and track account balances, trying to get ahead. We look at the problems in our world, in our homes and feel certain that there is nothing we can do to improve our lot. We walk around in our heads, wondering if our thoughts are acceptable or if they deviate too far from the norm.

What is there to get ahead of, besides ourselves? We battle the past, sleep through the moment, and worry for the future. We waste away the cognitive seconds and leave our lives to wither – thinking instead of what may happen, what did happen. Immediate decisions often prove the hardest to make. To choose is to collapse all the possibilities into one certain path.

When I was introduced to Lung Leavin’ Day, I realized that my greatest fear and fault is inaction. Paralyzed by my anxiety over doing nothing, I end up doing nothing – a self-fulfilling prophecy at its worst. My desires are on par with Icarus, but I know better than to use wax to build my wings. Sometimes it seems my only tools are candles and the only choice I have is how spectacularly I want to fail. Shall I watch my work melt into nothing or burn it all in bonfires?

Climate change. Poverty. Overpopulation. Hunger. This short and incomplete list of problems facing our global civilization can make anyone want to cower in a corner of helplessness.

Concentrating on the world at large is hard, but doing so when our own lives are out of order seems impossible. When our relationships snag or our bodies splinter, the world is reduced to the microcosm of our personal bubble. Can anything bigger matter when our lives are glued together at the cracks?

And yet…
All Icarus really needed was some creative engineering.

And yet…
America is finally taking steps to combat pollution.
Our generation can end poverty.
Family planning and contraceptives are the answer we already have.
There are ways to fix our failing food industry.

And yet…
Time heals wounds and the chipped veneer of our personalities are made all the more interesting for having been fractured.

I don’t know if I am rad. I know I’m not fast. But I know I have more than candles. Most days, I know that I am enough. Some days adequacy isn’t enough. On those days, I hope my wings can withstand the sun.

'Glory of Icarus' by ReyeD33
‘Glory of Icarus’ by ReyeD33

21 thoughts on ““I can change only myself, but sometimes that is enough.” -Ruth Humleker

  1. Better to burn out than fade away…sometimes, anyway…

    You know how often my wings melt, my friend. That’s why we need each other: one to fall, and the others to catch. I shall do my best to catch. I owe it to you, as you have done it for me. :0)

    1. Every day seems to have a different ending or at least my preference changes daily. Burn, melt, fail to fly- they’ve all got pros and cons. I think we’ve found a nice balance of catch and release between you and me. :0)

  2. “All Icarus really needed was some creative engineering” – love this line. Because you’re right, when it comes down to it, you have to try to see the world differently – for that is where the answer lies. There are now microscopes made out of paper (costing less than 50 cents each) being sent to 3rd world countries to assist w/medical procedures; arms, legs, and possibly even lungs being made on 3d printers. I see this amazing, wonderful things, and I have to wonder why I can’t contribute more to solve the world’s problems.

    I give back, donate, volunteer, recycle, preach acceptance and tolerance, but always worry that it’s not enough. When there’s so much wrong, how can my small contribution be enough? By itself, it’s not. But coupled with others, it is. And that makes it adequate.

    1. It’s too easy to get bogged down in the solutions we don’t have yet. In spite of it all, humanity thus far has met the challanges. We made most of them for ourselves, but we are meeting them one by one, person by person. You’re right, we have to contribute and know that our contributions matter. We do more when we can and strive never to do less.

  3. Wow Madalyn… I sit here amazed and in awe. 😮

    This post is probably my favorite of all posts you’ve written — it touches humanity beautifully. It touched ME deeply! Slap me? Pinch me? Am I still here? Have I come back down from up there? ❤

  4. A wonderfully wrought and far-reaching article Madalyn, for which many thanks. It seems that our species, as currently organized, is obsessed with the measurement of personal adequacy, or to put it another way, with comparison. We seem to validate our lives not in terms of humility and discrete acts of kindness, but rather in the way we match up to, or surpass, others, in their worldly status. Humleker’s quote is perfect, with echoes of Buddhistic and Marxian/Hegelian philosophy. If we wish to put the world to rights, we first must put our own house in order. This is my firm conviction.

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