It takes just one caring person to change the world. That’s what my grandson, Adam, learned at school last month.
His assignment was to list characteristics a person should have, such as being honest and brave and dependable and a good friend. It was a great assignment to give to a fourth-grade class because it made a classroom of children think, not just about the qualities they admired in others, but qualities they would want to cultivate in themselves.
Adam’s mother and father, of course, were his examples of caring people. But then came the fictional George Bailey. Adam had seen “It’s A Wonderful Life” at Christmas, not so long ago, and apparently the story of George Bailey stuck with him — Bailey, who helped everyone, who was a good son, friend, husband, person.
It takes just one caring person to change the world. As Adam was learning this, I was watching a movie at my friend Anne’s house in Edgecomb, Maine, “Charlie Wilson’s War.” The movie came out in 2007, but neither of us had seen it, and a friend said we should.
It stars Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, and Philip Seymour Hoffman, and is based on the true story of Texas congressman Charlie Wilson’s efforts to fund and arm Afghan rebels who were being decimated by the Soviets in the late 1980s and early ’90s.
It takes just one caring person to change the world. In this case the caring person was a woman, Texas socialite Joanne Herring, played by Julia Roberts in the film. She knew that the Afghan people were sitting ducks for the Soviets. She knew and she did something about it.
Movies always take liberties with facts, so there are gaps in the film and no doubt the dialog is cleverer than what was said in real life.
Herring: Why is Congress saying one thing and doing nothing?
Wilson: Well, tradition mostly.
But the movie doesn’t stray from the fundamental truth that Herring persuaded Wilson to fly to Afghanistan and see what was happening, then see if he could turn his back on the people.
Wilson went. He saw. And returned to the United States haunted by images of kids with missing limbs, children who picked up the detritus of Soviet weapons, shiny things on the ground, which exploded and blew off their arms. He came back determined to get Congress to give the Afghans money so they could buy weapons and defend themselves.
He was successful. And the rebels won the war. And the Soviets lost. And then the Soviet Union collapsed.
Wilson was a womanizer with a history of drinking and drugging. Herring’s money came from oil and she was at the time honorary consul for Pakistan.
So maybe she had a horse in this race. Or maybe she was what the movie presents her as: a caring person who was appalled at a superpower, which the Soviet Union was at the time, using its super powers on a country that didn’t have the weaponry to defend itself.
One caring person. No matter her motives, she changed the world.
I read an obituary the other day about a man who had all kinds of degrees, traveled everywhere, toured music halls and art galleries. And I thought, yes but what did he care about besides music and art. Who did he help?
Adam says, “The world would be really sad if no one was caring. Everyone would be mean to each other and wars would happen more.”
He’s almost 10. People might say he has a lot to learn. But it seems to me he’s learned life’s most important lesson already.