One of the works that influenced me in my early years (in the 1960s) was Dag Hammarskjold’s Markings.
Hammarskjold was the Secretary General of the United Nations who died in a plane crash in the Congo on September 18, 1961. He was there to help negotiate a peace in that land that still is besieged by conflict.
After his death a book he had left was published. It contained the wisdom he had written in his journals over his years of public service.
One quote has stuck with me because it helps me see that what really count are not the great deeds we dream of but the small deeds of faithfulness in daily life. It is so easy to try to live the “great commitment” but miss the faithfulness in the little things that make great things happen.
“The ‘great’ commitment is so much easier than the ordinary everyday one — and can all too easily shut our hearts to the latter. A willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice can be associated with, and even produce, a great hardness of heart….
“The ‘great’ commitment all too easily obscures the ‘little’ one. But without the humility and warmth which you have to develop in your relations to the few with whom you are personally involved, you will never be able to do anything for the many. Without them, you will live in a world of abstractions, where your solipsism, your greed for power, and your death-wish lack one opponent which is stronger than they – love. Love, which is without an object, the outflowing of a power released by self-surrender, but which would remain a sublime sort of super-human self-assertion, powerless against the negative forces within you, if it were not tamed by the yoke of human intimacy and warmed by its tenderness. It is better for the health of the soul to make one [person] good than ‘to sacrifice oneself for [hu]mankind.’ For a mature [person], these are not alternatives, but two aspects of self-realization, which mutually support each other, both being the outcome of one and the same choice.”