The day felt dark though the sun was shining brightly, and the air was heavy with words and images that kept reminding me of the stink of evil. I found it ironic that the unknown was front and center, blinding in its invisible presence.

On that dark, sunny day, I had lunch with some delightful new friends, Bob and Elly. We talked about the difference between worry and concern, what we had control over and what was out of our hands. We talked about family and friends, about supporting one another, and about reflecting on the wisdom that comes from living and caring, from mistakes, from heartaches, and from loving. I realized as we talked, it was all about getting involved, pushing up our sleeves and grabbing hold of life. Participating.

So how do we live our lives with the “what if’s” hiding behind every corner? How do we tell ourselves that, in time, this too shall pass? And how long must we wait for this “awakening” to happen? I’ve asked myself these questions a thousand times and have finally come to the conclusion that the problem is not in the what if’s, it’s in the waiting.

Waiting is like wishing – there’s no effort involved. All that’s required is a lovely idea, a gentle toss to the universe, and a comfy chair to sit in while the wish is being processed. I’m saving wishes for a cloudless night when an occasional shooting star blazes across the sky. Knowing that’s my dad’s way of saying hello from a star-filled heaven, I’ll say hi, make a wish, take a deep breath and smile. For me, that’s where wishes belong.

Worry, wishing, waiting … they’re possibly the three most ineffective ways of enacting change. Now I admit, I am a skilled worrier; I’ve logged thousands of hours wringing my hands over things I could do nothing about. And what did all of that worrying accomplish? Not a blasted thing. Not only did I eat every carb in the house from the stress I created for myself, but I wasted perfectly good days by filling them with angst. So, I have gradually tried to address the challenges I can actually touch, and change the things I can change, starting with myself.

Down here on earth, there’s work to be done – some of it enjoyable, some not so much. Wishing implies that we have the luxury of allowing someone else to put in the effort while we patiently (or impatiently) wait for the desired results. Having faith in the possibilities for this world and the people in it, well, that’s a whole different story.

No, we can’t address the U.N. and orate for hours about our thoughts on world events. No we can’t wave a magic wand and cover the world with “Play Nice” sparkles and “Be Good” glitter. No we can’t expect someone else to do the work. We can’t wish and wait.

It must start with each of us. We have within us the power to change our own little corner of the world, beginning in our own homes. Show our families what respect sounds like. Show them what acceptance looks like. Show them what compassion and empathy feels like. Then step outside into the community to do the same thing. Maybe, just maybe, that glorious ripple effect will begin – from the threshold of your front door, to your neighbors, to your community, to your country, to the world.

I saw a shooting star that night. I made a wish, and went to bed. I had some important work to do in the morning.

On January 1, 2016, a version of this essay appeared in the Buffalo News.