Commentary by Lt. Col. Amy Robinson
50th Operations Group deputy commander
One of the things I enjoy as a parent is re-reading a lot of the books I loved as a child. Especially since my daughter moved out of the rhyming-picture-book phase, I’ve gotten reacquainted with some beautiful chapter books.
One book we read several times is Charlotte’s Web. It’s an enchanting story of a pig, Wilbur, who is befriended by a spider named Charlotte who saves him from being butchered by the farmer. More than just a story of an unusual friendship, though, it’s a sensitive introduction to the cycle of life. Wilbur is young and impetuous, and Charlotte is a wise, stabilizing influence. Near the end of her life, she explains to Wilbur why she helped him. “We’re born, we live a little while, we die. A spider’s life can’t help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle.” I’m sure I overlooked the depth of this statement the first time I read this book, but coming across it again, I was struck with how profoundly this sums up our limited chance to make a difference in this world, to “lift up” our lives and how we need to make the most of our opportunities.
Some people have extraordinary gifts, allowing them to make contributions to humanity and personally touch many lives. Edward Jenner was a country doctor who developed the first vaccine for smallpox in the early 1800s. His discovery changed the course of medicine with his theory of immunization and it’s been said that his work saved the lives of more people than any other person. In the 1950s, Jonas Salk developed the polio vaccine, saving thousands of children from death or paralysis each year in this country alone. Neither of these men patented their discoveries, preferring instead to make sure they could help as many people as possible. Obviously the satisfaction of making a difference was more important to them than the potential profits they could make.
The ability for an individual to have that type of broad impact is rare, but there are plenty of opportunities for most to make a significant difference on an individual level. I spent a few unplanned weeks in the hospital a couple of years ago and it really surprised me how much I appreciated the volunteers who spent time there. Many organizations offer volunteer opportunities, allowing people to invest their time to make a difference in the lives of children, elderly or sick people or in the community. Frequently, less formal circumstances present themselves when neighbors or co-workers need help. These are opportunities we all can take advantage of to move beyond the routine tasks of existence and invest in something that lasts beyond our own lifetime.
I recognize that sometimes our day-to-day responsibilities seem mundane. The “trapping and eating flies” or the staff summary sheets and power-point charts are necessary activities, but they are not what necessarily inspire us to get out of bed every day. It’s when we can make a difference to another person or invest in humanity’s future that our lives are lifted up and we have the fortunate circumstance that even our daily activities are making a difference.
I would guess that most of us are where we are because of our desire to make a difference and contribute to society. We are a part of something bigger than ourselves and deliver incredible capabilities around the world. As the communications, surveillance and global navigation services we give to our warfighters and the world become as ubiquitous as polio inoculations, it’s easy to forget how positively life-changing these contributions really are and how these accomplishments are also worthy of inspiring us.
Thank you for investing part of your life to make the world a better place both through your individual relationships and through our missions at Schriever. I hope that you, too, feel your life lifted up through each day and action you take.