What can I, as just one person, do?
That’s a natural question to ask in our world and country and communities. Just days after two devastating hurricanes swept through the Gulf Coast and the Caribbean and Florida, leaving a path of unprecedented destruction in their wake. Houston after Harvey: 50 inches of rain, 530 square miles flooded (twice the area of Chicago) and 40,000 homes were damaged or destroyed. The Caribbean: where 95 percent of one island, St. Martin, was almost completely wiped out, stripped bare, right down to the sand. And then Florida, where at the height of Irma’s howling winds, America’s third most populous state was under a hurricane warning from the Keys in the far south all the way up to Tallahassee in the Pan Handle, making for the largest evacuation in our nation’s history, 5.6 million people on the move, fleeing.
Statistics like these can rightly cause us as individuals to spiritually and emotionally lock up, shut down, and become overwhelmed by so much human pain and suffering and hurt. We just can’t take it all in, can’t comprehend the scope and scale of the tragedy. Too many bad things happening much too fast and in way too short a time.
We want to help, even need to help, but then we wonder and worry: I’m just one soul. What can I really do? How can I hope to assist? What difference will my small efforts make in this one big, ugly, awful outcome?
Here’s one answer: fueled by faith, proved by experience, and founded in hope. You can absolutely make a difference by what you now choose to do, after the storms. Act: refuse to be overwhelmed by the bad news. Pray: hold those in peril in your heart. Donate: money or fresh water or disposable diapers, whatever is needed. Organize: take a group and travel to the flood and storm lashed places and then swing a hammer and help to rebuild. For even worse than a natural disaster or a local disaster, someone in need far away or right next door, are human inaction, human complacency and human weariness. The twin emotions of despair and cynicism can always trick us into thinking that our lives do not matter all that much. That “one” is the loneliest and most powerless number in the world.
What can one child of God do to change the world for the good? What will you do?
The story is told of a young girl walking along a beach on which thousands of starfish had been washed up during a terrible storm. When she came to each starfish, she would pick it up, and throw it back into the ocean. People watched her with amusement. She had been doing this for some time when a man approached her and said, “Little girl, why are you doing this? Look at this beach! You can’t save all these starfish. You can’t begin to make a difference!” The girl seemed crushed, deflated. But after a few moments, she bent back down, picked up another starfish, and then hurled it as far as she could into the ocean. Then she looked up at the man and said, “Well, I made a difference for that one!”
This is how the world is made and remade for the good, after a storm, in how each one of us choose to live and give and love. We can save one starfish, feed one hungry person, love one orphaned child, house one homeless family and help one hurricane battered soul when we act with mercy and compassion. Judaism describes this work and belief as “Tikkun Olam”, which translates as, “to repair the world”. God knows and we know that this fragile and beautiful world is always broken and is always in need of rebuilding and renewal.
We can’t do everything. But as citizens and neighbors, we can do something. That clear choice and brave commitment is up to each one of us. I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and open my wallet and begin to make repairs. Now that the sun has come back out, it’s clear there is so much to do.
Can we really make a difference? Yes! Let’s get to work.