“You Can’t Change Things”

“You can’t change things, you know,” he said. Who it was isn’t important, he is many people, he is a she as well. I’ve encountered him/her everywhere I go, online and on television too.

He saw me using a reusable bag at the grocery store, in which the cashier was putting my veggie burgers and soy milk. I always go to a cashier rather than using the self-checkout because I’d rather give a person a job than interact with a piece of machinery.

“It doesn’t do any good,” he said in the silence that existed while I weighed the words he first spoke to me. “You all by yourself are not going solve the world’s problems.”

“Look at all the other people shoving their groceries into plastic bags that they will then throw away. Not only do they not care, your example will be ignored, and you can’t do it on your own.”

Like I said, I have heard the argument many, many times before, from people who felt they knew better than me, were wiser in the ways of the world. In the past, their words would weigh heavily upon me. I would believe them because they were so certain, while all my conviction rested on that ever fragile notion called hope. Their argument, however seemed to rest solidly on past examples. Who was I to argue with all the evidence the past provided? Who was I to say that something new might be achieved? A dreamer, surely.

But perhaps it was the utter repetitiveness of the argument that finally made me tire of it. In all of my life it never wavered, and in all my life, it never did anything to make me happier or the world a better place. So I gave him my reply in a way I never had before. I said it confidently, whereas in the past I weighed my hope with his defeatism.

“Yes, I can,” I said, and it really made me feel good inside to say it.

“What?” he said, as if I had just pronounced myself to be Napoleon Bonaparte or Jesus Christ.

“I said,” and I paused for a moment, confidently, “I am going to change the world.”

“You’re crazy,” he said, with the certainty such types are known for. But freed from my own doubt, my own despair, I could see his certainty and his narrative begin to waver. Never in his life had he had it confronted so directly.

“I am going to change the world,” I said. Not cruelly. Not confrontationally. Just confidently, filled with a brightness I had always longed for but never believed myself capable of. “I am going to change the world and you and everyone else in this store are going to help me.”

I couldn’t help noticing the cashier looking at me as I spoke. I wasn’t sure of what she thought of me, but I realized I wasn’t embarrassed by the words I spoke, the position I took, nor the attitude I had assumed. My groceries bagged, I thanked the cashier quite genuinely for the service she provided for me, grabbed my bag and walked out the door, making sure I gave something to the bell ringer and thanking him as well. I wish I could explain to you the joy I felt inside. My uncertainty I left behind for the man who had tried to talk me out of my foolishness. “That’s okay,” I thought, “uncertainty is where I started and it led me to where I am now, which is quite a nice state of mind to be in.” I truly believe he had been waiting his whole life for someone to show him he was wrong.

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