“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” — Howard Thurman
When I was a kid, I used to love to sit at the top of my jungle gym and watch the goings on of the neighborhood. My fence cornered two others, and I could see four more backyards besides. I knew which couples got along and which were fighting. I knew where dogs hid their bones. I watched swimming pools dug and gardens planted and other kids swinging so high I thought they wanted to marry the sky. I could tell you what time each family ate dinner and when the moms made their kids sit down to homework. I was a human calendar that could have divulged the events of many days before they even unfolded.
Then one fall, shortly before Thanksgiving, something unexpected happened: A man in my neighborhood became enamored with baking muffins—blueberry, banana nut, ginger lemon, chocolate chip, jalapeño cheddar, onion walnut—you name it, he baked it. Oh how he came alive! This once very ordinary, nondescript man, who I’d never bothered to watch much before, was now lit with the fire of passion. He was radiant as he stood over the stovetop in his apron and mitts, face aglow with oven light and infatuation, waiting for his muffins to cool. He was radiant and happy, and he made others happy too. Neighborhood children began to hang around his yard and driveway to watch him bag up muffins at his worktable in the garage. Women stopped by with casseroles in hopes of receiving muffins in return. Everyone offered help when they saw him repairing a board in his fence or trimming back a hedge. The bottom line is that this man adored muffins, and through loving muffins he loved the world and the world loved him back.
Because it was close to Thanksgiving, I began to associate my muffin-baking neighbor with the concept of gratitude, and it occurred to me then, as it does now, that there are few greater ways to express thanks for these lives we have been given than to find something that thrills us and to spend our time doing it.
When we brim, when we shimmer, when we glow with love for something, anything, we become conduits of magic, and we ourselves become gifts to the world. I don’t care if it’s muffins or poetry or nursing or duct tape art or spelunking or carving idyllic picnic scenes into egg shells; when we love what we do, that love becomes an elixir for all who are lucky enough to know us. We are not only expressing our appreciation for our lives; we are giving others reason to be thankful for us too.