I’ve never really appreciated art, at least in the traditional sense. It’s hard for me to look at a painting and truly feel connected to its meaning. Sometimes I’m even embarrassed that the complexity is lost on me; I only see shapes on a canvas, or figures in a drawing. But I’ve always appreciated great writing. Words arranged beautifully, more powerful and meaningful together than when they stood alone.
Recently, I found myself scouring the Internet for quotes by Martin Luther King, Jr. for a client project. Dissecting each quote, looking for the perfect one to convey my message, I was reminded how words—written at a different time, for a different purpose—can so quickly belong to the reader. Affirm their beliefs. Speak their language. Motivate their actions.
One in particular stood out to me:
“Be a bush if you can’t be a tree. If you can’t be a highway, just be a trail. If you can’t be a sun, be a star. For it isn’t by size that you win or fail. Be the best of whatever you are.”
This past year, maybe more than any other, it’s been hard for many of us to feel our best. We’re all just getting by, wading through the mental, emotional, and physical fatigue, of such a difficult year.
As I read and re-read, line by line, word by word, I finally felt like the introspective museum goer, admiring the artist’s genius. And through the lens of 2020, I heard this:
Empathize, even if it’s not your hardship.
If you can’t lead a movement, join one.
If you feel helpless in the face of an increasingly unkind world, act—with your voice, with your values, with your vote.
Be the best you today will allow.
And for me, as I strive to be just be one of my bests—mother, partner, friend, sister, daughter—let alone all of them, what I heard clearest was this:
If you can’t be everything to everyone, just be something to someone.