“At last with an effort he spoke, and wondered to hear his own words, as if some other will was using his small voice. 'I will take the Ring' he said 'though I do not know the way.”
-J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
On March 22, 2016 one person broke the internet. And he didn’t even mean to do it.
On that day in March, one programmer decided he wanted to remove the code packages that he had previously published for others to use. One of these packages was named “left-pad.” It was an incredibly simple bit of code—not even 20 lines. It did exactly what its name said: it added white-space padding to some text for formatting purposes.
And then the internet broke.
Why? Because hundreds of projects depended on “left-pad” and when that code was removed, their code couldn’t be built anymore. Hundreds doesn’t seem like a lot though. Why would that break everything? Because some of those projects were much larger projects that millions of people relied on to build their code. Hence, there was a domino effect: one person in his basement removed 15 lines of code, which resulted in slightly larger projects failing, resulting in larger projects failing, and so on.
Sometimes, we forget that the great world depends upon the very small things, and the very small people, in it.
Most of us are very small people in this world. What we usually don’t realize is that even the very small are meant to be heroes in this world. Truly, many of the very small are already heroes, and don’t know it. Millions of people depended upon a tiny piece of code called “left-pad” and didn’t realize it; billions depend upon the small daily works of good people, and none of us realize it.
Once, though, we all naturally knew that we were made to be heroes. In the words of Pope Benedict XVI, we once knew we “were not made for comfort. [We] were made for greatness.” We instinctively knew this when we were children. Our Lord tells us that we are to become as little children if we wish to enter the kingdom of Heaven. Becoming like a little child implies trust, innocence, but perhaps something else too: a desire to be great.
Little boys will don a cape and pretend to save the world. Little girls will fashion crowns of flowers and become benevolent queens. Children have a deeply rooted belief that, in some way, they are destined to be great lords and ladies. They believe they are meant to bring great good to the world. At some point though, children grow up, and leave their capes and crowns behind with other things the world has deemed “childish.” And very often they leave behind the child too, for they cannot see how small acts ultimately affect the greater world.
Yet we know they do.
In our own lives we can think of a seemingly small action that someone once did for us that may have profoundly changed our lot for the better: a small word of encouragement, a friendly piece of advice, some charitable gift when we were most in need of it. Those that performed those small actions likely never knew how much it meant for us— they may never know they were our heroes that day.
In the same way, we will never know, this side of heaven, how our good actions affected those around us. What we must believe, though, is that they do. We have a God-given desire to be heroic, and God-given desires are never in vain. As. St. Catherine tells us, “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” What we must realize is that sometimes this fire will burn in ways we do not see. We must choose to do the small, every day things we are called to do by our vocation, and then rest assured that each deed adds kindling to the fire.
In the Fellowship of the Ring, when Frodo volunteers to bear the ring, he doesn’t do so fully understanding what this would mean. He is, like you and me, a small person in the great world. He knows that heroism is needed, even if he does “not know the way.”
So it must be for us.
If all we can see is the world’s darkness, then it’s past time to reawaken the sleeping child within us—the one that once knew we were meant to be great. Even now we’re being called.
Little girl, get up! Little boy, get up! For the night is far spent, and the day is at hand! It’s time to dust off that crown, and unpack that cape. It’s time to be a hero.