|A glass starfish we found serendipitously at the fair after church on Sunday|
There was a man--or it could have been a woman, in this case it doesn't matter-- walking on a long, empty, and beautiful beach one morning. Before him, he saw a child dancing on the sand, swinging her arms (or "his" arms, if you like) back and forth. As the man approached the girl, he saw that she was not dancing but bending down to pick up a starfish and throw it into the water. There were thousands of starfish beached on the sand, as far as the man could see. The man said to the girl, "What are you doing?" and she replied, "If they stay too long in the sun, they will die. So I'm sending them back out to sea." He said, "But there are so many. You can't save them all. You won't make any difference." And the girl looked at the man and looked at the starfish in her hand, thought for a moment with her face all scrunched up. Then she threw the starfish into the sea.
"Made a difference to that one!" she replied.
Soon, others heard of the girl's efforts and many people came to the beach to help. And thousands of starfish were saved.
This was the lesson told at church on Sunday, a popular tale in Unitarian Universalist services that I had heard before. But the timing couldn't have been better. There is unrest in our nation, and our wold, anger, sadness, despair even. The murder of black men by police officers, terrorist bombings in Chelsea, and, since Sunday, yet another school shooting. The water is not clean in many cities, particularly Flint; the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe attempts to protect its water supply from a pipeline but is opposed by Big Business. There is war, murder, rape, torture. 65 million displaced persons in the world. 100,000 children being bombed in Aleppo. And there is a man running for president of our country who prides himself on his racism, homophobia, isolationism, sexism, who quotes Mussolini and befriends Putin, all the while lying and obfuscating to drum up support for his walls and deportations and "law and order."
What can I do? What in the world can I do? I'm tired of the "thoughts and prayers" that are posted--that I post--after shootings and bombings. I'm tired of the "we'll love better" mentality that says if we only love stronger and broader that we can overcome all; we can outlove the haters. Better yet, we should love the haters. Okay, yes, sure. Thoughts, prayers, love.
But action, too. Except, what can I possibly do? I've often heard that everyone can't do everything so pick a cause and work on it--pick up that starfish--the environment, gun control, education, Black Lives Matter, Habitat for Humanity. All of those are good. Which one is for me? For my family? How do we introduce children to social action without scaring or worrying them to much? How do we avoid compassion fatigue? No one likes to think too long of extinct panda bears; sixty-five million people are so many to save.
One starfish at a time.
Hospice, Girl Scouts, lay ministry, money for Hillary, cans of food for the food drive, donations to the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, lemonade stand for autism awareness. Keep going, spread the word, pick up just one more starfish.
We can each make a difference. Even if it really all seems impossible. Sometimes, you're tired of bending over; sometimes the number of starfish is too overwhelming. So don't look just at the entire beach of starfish despairingly; look at the one you send sailing back out to sea, rejoice that it will live, and enjoy the morning on the beach. Sometimes, it helps if you dance a little.