May 2001

"Mr. Cullen, you're up."

Edward stood and walked past Mr. Spratt, situating himself behind the podium. He disliked giving speeches and he was happy that this would be the last of his academic career. He graduated in a few weeks. He was relieved to get this last public speaking requirement out of the way.

He straightened his spine to stand tall and looked out over the auditorium.

"Last summer, when I went to visit my parents prior to serving my internship with the Washington State Environmental Protection Agency, I was sitting in the back yard relaxing when I heard crashes from the side of the house. I feared it was a bear, so I went cautiously to peek around the corner.

It was not a bear but a twelve year old girl my sister was babysitting. She had emptied out our garbage cans and was pulling out anything with a screw top and cap. I asked her what she was doing and she told me what she had learned in school about the danger that bottle and stretchy plastic rings posed to wildlife, especially birds and dolphins. She explained that when we allow the ring to remain intact, after twisting the plastic cap off of a bottle or pulling cans out of their plastic-ringed packaging, they can end up in the ocean. She told me that dolphins and birds play with those rings, and many have died because the rings slip onto their noses and beaks, trapping their mouths shut and starving them to death.

At first, I wanted to chuckle at her efforts, but then decided to help her instead. I realized that while her efforts might be small, it was a start. Here was a young girl trying to make a difference in her own way. She knew enough to start around her. Any normal tween might be obsessing about shopping or the latest gossip but here she was, digging through garbage cans, cutting the rings of plastic with a pair of scissors so they could not be a threat to our friends in the sea. As we were getting dirty going through the bins, we began talking about the contents in our garbage. She was much more aware than the average twelve year old.

My sister joined us, then my mother, all curious as to what we were doing. Soon we all had scissors in our hands, snipping rings. She would hold up a can so that we could look at the ingredients. She talked about how European countries ban products due to health concerns, but that the FDA still allows the use of them in our food supply. She would ask my mother repeatedly if she compared labels, to select the products made in the US before buying a product made in another country...we all began to wonder who was watching who. This girl was telling us easy ways to become informed consumers and she was not yet old enough to drive.

She made me question what it is about the world that causes us to not take those little steps while we can. Why do many of us become complacent?

Humans are prone to narrowly define themselves. We often have depth-perception issues, allowing ourselves to accept what is, but not what could be. We ignore our potential because looking for it might require difficulty on our part.

We often walk in circles, failing to realize the direction of our heart's compass. Many of us are lost or feel adrift. We settle on the easier path, avoiding that which might burn us. That fear hinders progress and growth, and our souls begin to slumber, for it's easy to become complacent when we are not challenged...when our inner fire is dimmed. Our moral muscle resembles our muscular is only strengthened when used.

I dare say that very few of us use our moral muscle as much as we should.

Yet new ideas rise like water might, a rousing of fluid notions that form into larger ideas, birthing new concepts and directions as they pool deep within our minds. The fluidity can transition to liquid fire, burning surfaces of our decisions, surging forward, coating the direction and desires of others as well as our own. We imprint our sparks on others, where duty, creativity, innovation and the striving of future generations begets inception.

Our last assignment for this class was to give a speech about something that we hope will influence the decisions we will face in our future. I realized that the answer was simpler than I previously thought, something as uncomplicated as the sum of the flint of inspiration against the steel of our resolve. It only takes a tiny spark to kindle larger revelations, on and on until an inner warmth spreads outwards into the world. The extension of our inner spark has lasting repercussions on others. It can warm them for a time or even inspire new sparks to form. Some sparks may die out while others forge the robust, staggering achievement of a hearty blaze that perseveres.

Parva scintilla saepe magnam flamam excitat.

A small spark often initiates a large flame. Will we remember this when we make the decisions that shape our future? If we kindle, nurture and encourage, what fires can we inspire?"