A few years ago I read the book Turning Stones by Marc Parent for one of my social work classes. It is an awesome book if you are big into child welfare, but is a bit disturbing otherwise. In this book Parent relates his experiences as a child protective service worker in New York City. He and a partner go into homes that are severely distressed and decide if the children need to be taken into state custody immediately.
After a particularly chilling case in which one child actually dies, Parent tells a story about a group of nuns. As a gift, a parish sent all their nuns on a sightseeing road trip across the country on a bus. After several days, the sisters began to notice that at every stop Sister Clara would go off by herself, find a stone, and turn it over. At first it was just small stones, but as the trip progressed, the stones she chose became larger and larger.
Eventually one of the other nuns voiced her concern. Sister Clara was quite feeble and she was worried Sister Clara would get hurt. The other nuns agreed, and so they asked Sister Clara why she felt the need to turn these stones at each stop.
This was Sister Clara’s reply, “I turn a stone so that the place is different because I have been there.”
For perhaps centuries, the earth had held each of those stones in the same place and the same way. And when she turned them, she did, “…something in that moment that no other man or woman that ever lived or died, no matter how great or powerful—no president, no king or ruler, no order of government or unruly mob—something that no person and no thing on the entire planet could ever do at that exact point in time…”
After hearing why Sister Clara did this, all of the nuns began to turn stones of their own, and by the end of the trip all of the nuns were working together to turn over the biggest, most impossible boulder they could find. Parent remarks, “…at the very core of it, there’s no difference between turning a stone and splitting the earth in half. At the very core of it, there is no such thing as a small change, there is only change. It is an event that either happens or doesn’t and therefore can’t be measured as a size but only as an occurrence.”
Parent then explains that over time he had fallen into discouragement because he could not entirely fix the lives of the children and families he visited. He was disappointed that he did not have the ability to split the earth in two in order to prevent the death of that child. But he then realized that his job was not to flip mountains upside down. His job was to flip over a small stone. His job was to be there for the family and to make even a minute difference in a child’s life simply because he had been in his or her home.
Each of us has been blessed with special gifts and abilities, and each of us contributes something to the world that no one else can duplicate. While we may not be able to change the entire world, and we may not have the ability to split the earth in two, it’s ok. It really doesn’t matter that we may never get the opportunity to change the world. The small part of the world each of us occupies will be different just because we were in it.
Turn every little stone that you come across. Make a place different because you have been there. Change the way you live in the world, and live in a way that will better the world you live in. As you turn those stones, your efforts will be noticed, as Sister Clara’s were. Your example will make those around you want to turn stones of their own. And who knows, maybe you will change the world.