One of my favorite books I have ever read is a book called Chain Reaction, by Darrell Scott. Darrell’s daughter, Rachel, was killed at Columbine High School in a mass shooting spree on April 20, 1999. Rachel was an exceptional young lady and outspoken in her Christian values. She committed her life to the belief that each person, by reaching out to others in compassion and kindness, could start a powerful chain reaction of goodness that just might change the world. She was well aware that the world was a violent place, but she believed the only answer to violence was kindness.
Rachel reached out to kids at school, those who were new or disabled, those who were picked on by others. In fact, she had actually reached out to Eric and Dylan, the two troubled boys who were the shooters, but Rachel wasn’t a shrinking violet. She was direct and outspoken and criticized the two boys for a video they made for a class project that was full of violence and bad language. In a video on March 15, Eric spoke about the chain reaction of violence that he wanted to launch; he achieved his goal, and since then there have been many school shootings, leaving a long swath of horrific deaths and heart-rending grief.
God has given each person their own unique set of gifts and no matter who you are or what you do, in some way you start a ripple effect similar to a stone dropping in water. We think of celebrities having the biggest impact, but the truth is that it’s the little pebbles that start most of the ripples impacting our lives.
Rachel wrote in an essay “I am sure that my codes of life may be different from yours, but how do you know that trust, compassion and beauty will not make this world a better place to be in and this life a better one to live? My codes may seem like a fantasy that can never be reached, but test them for yourself, and see the kind of effect they have in the lives of people around you. You just may start a chain reaction.”
We know the two shooters, Eric and Dylan, were treated as outcasts and were bullied and harassed, humiliated, called faggots and were squirted with ketchup. The harsh treatment they received fueled their fury and rage, triggering a violent explosion of destructive anger. In contrast, Rachel’s dad has written books and spoke to over a million people. The message he shares about his daughter’s life and writings has positively changed the lives of countless young people all over the world.
Celebrities can certainly influence our culture, whether from immoral lifestyles or selfish materialism, or whether they genuinely try to help their fellow man, but I contend it is the ‘little’ people that have an even greater influence. I went to a funeral yesterday for an extraordinary woman, Jeanne O’Neill. Jeanne loved her family passionately and was an exemplary woman of faith. I first met Jeanne at morning mass when the new chapel at St. Brigid was completed in 2002. We all had our ‘spot’ in the chapel, and I usually sat directly behind her.
I was able to witness first hand her unwavering faith and her devotion to prayer; she always had her bag filled with missals, devotionals, bibles, novenas, prayer cards and other assorted sacramentals. Unless she was sick or out of town, I don’t think Jeanne ever missed mass. By the world’s standards Jeanne is ‘insignificant’; she wasn’t the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, she wasn’t a powerful politician. She didn’t write a best selling novel, or design buildings, or ride the space shuttle. Instead, she cooked meals, changed diapers, taught her children virtues and discipline, supported her husband in every way, and was a kind and loyal friend who kept Hallmark in business with the enormous amount of cards she sent. And by doing so profoundly impacted the lives of everyone she encountered.
Jeanne was a remarkable woman who simply fulfilled her vocation to the best of her ability. She loved being a wedding coordinator and giving communion as an Extraordinary Minister, especially to the infirmed. She participated in her faith community and prayed mightily for her family, friends, our country and anyone in need. Jeanne was always there with her quiet presence, a rock for her family, ready to help her friends in difficult times.
From the time she was first diagnosed with the brain tumor, to the very end, she never complained or asked ‘why me?’ She just flashed her radiant smile and tried to give comfort and strength to her family. This saintly woman will live on in the memories and hearts of her family and friends. She lived out her faith in a concrete manner and left a legacy of love, kindness, faith, perseverance, commitment and joy. Len once mentioned to me that he was so amazed at his wife’s indomitable devotion to her faith; she was and is still the inspiration for many.
There are millions of ordinary people who are transforming the world through their holiness and their devotion to their family and faith. I think of Jeanne when I read Ezekiel 36:23 “Then the nations shall know that I am the Lord – oracle of the Lord God – when through you I show my holiness before their very eyes.” God certainly showed his holiness through Jeanne.