Making my way to the March for Our Lives gun-control rally in D.C. recently, I got a request from a friend who was unable to attend.
"My heart wants me to march, but my joints say no," Elaine texted. "Would you walk for me, please, with my name on a slip of paper in your pocket?"
Another friend who couldn’t march was present in the posters she made for others to carry. My cousin’s wife, a conservative and a gun owner, also showed up, in a Facebook message of support that bridged our differences.
"March on, and stay safe," Diane wrote.
I looked around me at the throngs of men, women and children who had risen early, taken trains, buses, planes, Ubers and in one case, a snowmobile, to make it to Pennsylvania Avenue that morning.
"Activists," we call them.
But what of the people on the sidelines, I wondered, the friend in my pocket, the poster-maker, my cousin-in-law reaching across the aisle?
Were their quiet acts as vital to the movement for a better world?
The current of political unrest in our country has sprung forth a profusion of activism, led by courageous front-liners willing to devote their lives to just cause. I, for one, am in awe of these warriors, as well as the breadth of social media that transmits the insistent call to action on a multiplicity of causes: "The time is now!" shout the posts on Facebook, Twitter and mass e-mails. "The revolution is here! If you aren't part of the solution, you're part of the problem!"
And yet the preponderance of calls to "Act now!" on every screen makes it seem as if anybody can, and what’s more, everybody should, constantly be calling senators, knocking on doors, distributing petitions, boycotting, rallying, organizing and protesting in the streets.
And if we don’t, well, apparently then we are part of the problem.
Except, what if we’re just not cut out for this brand of activism? What if we have physical limitations that prevent us from rallying on an ongoing basis? Or we can’t afford the gas and time to drive to marches? What if we’re sensitive types who can’t tolerate conflict or confrontation?
We’ve been hearing about the personal toll the vigilance of activism can take: The New York Times recently reported that five Black Lives Matter activists have died in the last two years by suicide, homicide and "natural causes," if you call a heart attack at 27 a natural cause.
I think of the Parkland high-school students who spent five weeks around the clock speaking to the media about gun control and encouraging school walk-outs and 800 rallies worldwide, how their parents had to remind them to eat, drink and sleep.
I think of my own 20-something children, caught up in this era of movement and motion, podcasts and rants, marches and rallies, how hard it is for even seasoned adults to navigate.
According to its annual survey on stress by the American Psychological Association, nearly six in 10 adults (59 percent), regardless of party affiliation, report that the current social divisiveness in the nation causes them stress. A majority from both political parties say the future of the nation is a source of stress.
For some, activating around issues is a way to mitigate stress. More than half of Americans (59 percent) have taken some form of action in the past year, says the APA, including 28 percent who signed a petition and 15 percent who boycotted a company or product in response to its social or political views or actions.
For others, the simple act of staying informed is taxing: 56 percent say listening to the news causes them stress, and 72 percent believe the media blows things out of proportion.
Clearly, without activism in the narrowest definition of the word — "using vigorous campaigning to bring about political or social change," according to my computer dictionary — women wouldn’t have the right to vote in the United States. There would be no Tiananmen Square calling Chinese authoritarianism into question, no Arab Spring when protestors pressured leaders across that region to end decades of oppression. There would be no Civil Rights Act of 1964, which we celebrated recently as we remembered the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's assassination. No recent teacher walk-outs and strikes would have occurred in West Virginia and Oklahoma, setting the stage for increased education funding and future teacher demonstrations in other states.
We applaud, uphold and commemorate the work of these souls, if not saints.
But there is also a broader definition of activism that opens the gates of the movement to a wider multitude, says Ohio activist Kenyona Sunny Matthews.
"Activism isn’t just marching in the streets," Matthews told me after speaking about Dr. King’s assassination and legacy during Sunday services at a church outside Cleveland. "It’s about showing the world you care."
Activism can take the form of shared humanity through art and music, she says. It can be vegetarianism and voluntary simplicity. It can be reaching across the driveway to your neighbor or hugging the woman behind the cash register who is having a bad day. Activism is about sharing your gifts, your presence, your will with others to make change, however big or small, says Matthews.
"In the eyes of Dr. King, Malcom X and other African-American change agents, activism is showing respect for all of humanity," says Matthews who focused on African-American thought while earning a philosophy degree at Guilford College in Greensboro, N.C.
"Every simple good act is a ripple in the ocean of love. A ripple added to others becomes a wave of goodness."
We are in a time of great unrest in our country, one requiring great stores of activism, and also patience, care and compassion — for others, but also for ourselves.
I applaud the people who marched on D.C, and the potency of social media that generated hundreds of sister marches around the world. I applaud my sister who drove a carful of Memphis teen-agers to the march 900 miles there and 900 miles back, and the mother from Michigan who took a snowmobile and then a ferry boat and then a car to get to the march with her 13-year-old son and husband.
I applaud the Parkland students.
I also applaud my friend in South Carolina who uses social media to post loving, inspirational memes, poetry and prose every hour she is on her computer.
And my other friend who makes it a point to be kind to everyone, no matter how they treat her.
I applaud Elaine, whose creative gesture to put herself in my pocket kept me warm all day.
"All are needed. All should be valued," says Matthews, her life dedicated to making the world a better place.
Sometimes we march.
Sometimes we share our hearts.
I, for one, take comfort in knowing both sets of intentions exist in the world.
Journalist Debra-Lynn B. Hook of Kent, Ohio, has been writing about family life since 1988 when she was pregnant with the first of her three children. E-mails are welcome at email@example.com.