I was a nerdy middle school girl once, and a lonely one at that – and like most lonely little nerdettes, I spent a lot of time looking for love in fiction. Around this time, an image in The Time Traveler’s Wife – “a drop of blood in a bowl of milk” – got my mind reeling, literally. I imagined this metaphor, meant to symbolize a single conflict’s destructive effect on a relationship, as a tragic short film: A fat, scarlet globule plummeted toward a moon-like surface, got swallowed up like a bitter red pill and tinted the white liquid a lovesick pink.
Now I am a grown-up college student, and I’m not as lonely, and I like to think I’m a little more rational. So now, rather than a metaphor for bombing the shit out of an untarnished romance, I view the drop of blood in a bowl of milk as an allegory for how the neurotics of my generation think. Individualism is God in the world we inhabit, and each of us was raised in accordance to its tenets. Therefore, most of us see self-sacrifice in some form – a breathless schedule, devotion to some cause, a strict diet for sports or style – as obligatory. Because if a single drop of our blood can change the entire bowl of milk, then how much of ourselves we surrender to it truly matters. We think – I can matter.
But this mindset is often destructive to our wellbeing. It assumes there is only one person facing the bowl, where in fact seven billion of us are. And, hate to break it to those seven billion (including myself,) while each of us is contributing their lifeblood every single day, in some way, most of these contributions will have very little overall effect.
That’s not to say our actions aren’t important. Often, they’re rooted in a genuine desire to better humanity, and as a collective they definitely accomplish just that. Without the Civil Rights movement or the Allies’ collective effort to eradicate the Third Reich, our world would’ve been whitewashed. Without centuries of dedicated doctors, our advanced healthcare systems wouldn’t exist. I could add a dizzying number of examples to this list; which, ultimately, is the problem. The staggering and multitudinous achievements that young people face every day get us obsessed with counting ours among them, and counting them now, and counting them innumerable.
But the world is huge and old, and we are young and small. We aren’t changing it with every little decision we make, every success we celebrate, every toe we stub. Admittedly, some peoples’ actions affect it to a comparably greater degree, like Obama or Jesus or Mother Teresa. But these people concentrated their efforts to this rarified level because they cared about humanity, not superiority. Said Obama, you’ll recognize your potential “only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself.” And even these incomparably wise individuals only comprise the tiniest micro-minerals in a grain of sand between the toes of the Universe.
Hopefully, this comes as a relief – it did for me. The morning I got an A on my latest paper may have felt better than the morning after the requisite celebratory blackout, but they carried equal cosmic weight – little to none. I zoomed out, and realized: Even if one of the internships I emailed finally responds, and drips some life into my currently paler-than-Kristen-Stewart summer, it’s not going to tint the cosmic milk bowl. To do that, I’d have to bleed myself dry, and then I’m no use to anyone, not even myself.