It was an autumn day in the great Pacific Northwest and I was teaching my daughter Alex, an almost 5-year-old, how to ride a bike sans training wheels. We spent hours circling the lake, the leaves brown and red and crisp falling all around us. The sun warm, the air cool, the day beautiful. I ran along Alex holding onto her seat, shouting words of encouragement. Alex did her darndest to peddle, steer, balance and to not crash mercilessly into a shrub, the brutal pavement, or worse -- a duck (which run rampant around our little lake).
After several hours of our antics and just as we were about to abandon mission "big girl bike ride" -- the stars aligned, the gods acquiesced, and my little girl peddled away leaving me in her dust. I stood there, holding back tears and watching with pride and joy and fear (because someday about 13 years from now -- she really will ride away -- and I don't think I will ever be ready for that day). To this day -- six months later -- I can see the moment crystal clear -- and there is little doubt in my mind that 40 years from now I will be able to describe the scene in absolute clarity to whomever cares to hear. Why? Because it was a first -- my first kid, her first true moment of independence. This was a moment I had, unknowingly, looked forward to my entire life. And while I watched her peddle away, I was simultaneously flashing back nearly 35 years ago to the moment when I was five and I peddled away from my dad, on my green, banana seat, Schwinn bicycle. Another first that will stay with me until the day I die.
Firsts. Life is filled with wonderful, uber-satisfying firsts.
What has this to do with saving the world? Well, here is what I am thinking:
There is a life full of firsts that we anticipate, even expect. The first time you walk, the first time your ride a bike, the first time you stand up to the bully at school. The first kiss (seriously, is there anything better than that?), the first dance, the first time you hold a newborn baby -- or as I hear, even better -- the first time you hold a newborn grandchild. The first time you know, beyond a shadow of a doubt that your best friend will be there, no matter what. The first time you know that beyond a shadow of a doubt, he (or she) is "the one."
String these firsts together and you have a lifetime.
But recently I have been plagued by this notion: if there are firsts we know, wait for, look forward to, are there also firsts that we don't anticipate, don't know about, don't seek out, what firsts are we missing?
For example, what does it feel like the first time you make a $25 donation that allows a mom to treat her children with malaria and for the first time she doesn't have to stand by and watch her children die of a treatable disease. The first time you build a school for children in Tanzania, forever changing lives for generations to come? The first time you get your friends together and build a health clinic in Botswana (conveniently located near a water source so that women can sneak off and get what they need without anyone being any the wiser). What must that first feel like? Colluding with ladies a half a world away, so necessary and serious and somehow so mischievous.
And how about the first time that you start an HIV/AIDS education program in a fishing village, where for every one boy who gets HIV/AIDS, nine girls get it? How about the first time in those villages that nobody gets HIV/AIDS because of the education program you started? I wonder, how does a first feel where you wake up in the morning knowing that you made a real difference in a life. And now, because of your first there is a mom out there, somewhere, who will have a first that perhaps she wouldn't have lived long enough to experience. If you are a woman living in Botswana, you have an average life expectancy of 33 years. That isn't a lot of time for firsts. But with the right medicine and access to food, clean and health natural resources, drinkable water, opportunities to start a small business: cheap, easy, entirely doable actions -- a woman in Botswana might live another two or three decades. She might see her daughters go to school for the first time, she might actually, God willing, hold a grandbaby, see her forests restored, get to sleep a full eight hours instead of waking up at the crack of dawn to hike four miles for water.
Suddenly I am plagued by the notion that my firsts MUST actually be experienced in a bigger world, a more connected world. My firsts can be substantive and life changing. What an amazing world that with technology and planning, simple affordable solutions are possible; becoming an informed, engaged global citizen is possible.
I can't believe this is the first time I have thought of it.