I've been taking a self-imposed break from the interweb lately, because the status is... NOT quo and because the world is a mess, but I have zero desire to rule it.

Two Dr. Horrible references in one sentence.  That's gotta be some kind of record.

Smells like cumin.

I've fallen into the trap that bugs me so much when people at church do it, where they can't focus on or talk about anything but how awful everything is right now and how they need to shield their children from the evils of this world and how this clearly means the End of Times and how we should all just hunker down in the basement with our food supply and our homemade bullets and pray until Armageddon is over.  When the reality is that this time? well, yeah, it sucks... but once you live a few years beyond early adulthood, you realize that, hey, remember that time a little over a decade ago when planes flew into buildings?  That time sucked too.  And remember that other time a couple decades before that when there was a plane hijacking or a terrorist attack per week?  That time sucked too.  And remember that time when a President was shot and most of your seventh grade class applauded?  That time sucked a lot as well.  In fact, all of those times sucked just as much as this time.  Maybe in different ways, but not any worse or any better. (Can things actually suck better?)  But interspersed with all those sucky times were some true moments of charity, love and understanding. Many, in fact.  The moments where someone I know who lost their entire home and all their belongings in a fire and was benefited by the disaster response fund I help manage, turned around in the following year and donated hundreds of dollars to that same fund to support people who lost their homes in a super storm.  There are a lot more of those moments, in fact, than the sucky ones and you have just been focusing on the bad stuff, dumass.

I'm usually the one who speaks up in Sunday School to contradict the fearmongers, but it's been hard for me to stay focused on that lately.  Not even because such horrible things are happening, but because I'm worn out by it and I wished for better from us by now.

But then one of the girls I teach at church had some stuff happen, which is not my story to share, and while I was trying to help her through that, she tried out for a special touring sports team and made it.  She was ecstatic.  This kid is smart and totally capable of going to college after high school, but finances are going to be an issue and this will be the best chance for her to work toward a college scholarship.  The euphoria of that lasted for about a week until she realized that it would cost almost a grand to participate.  Money she did not have.  And she needed it in a week.

I helped her with some ideas for ways to raise money, garner sponsorship and with online fundraising websites.  She worked hard, but still only had a fraction of what she needed.  So I shared her website with my friends and family and I sent an email to my workmates and promised them that if they simply read my email, I would consider this a replacement for whatever school fundraiser/wrapping paper/cheese pot/pizza dough sale my kids' school was having this year. 

And you know what happened?  People came out of the woodwork.  The donations came rolling in, slowly at first, but then a couple of my friends took a real interest in this girl who was not my kid, but somehow connected to me, and kept asking about her.  They told other people and dug into their pockets to throw a little cash her way on my recommendation and suddenly, she was within a few hundred dollars of her goal.  And then the other kids at church all decided to babysit for a week and donate the money they earned to her fund and then a couple of my friends and coworkers donated what I would consider large sums of money.  Between that and the money she earned off line, she got close enough that she was able to be a part of the team.  Oh there will be travel expenses to come, but there's a lot longer lead time on that for her to plan on earning it.  

It was wonderful to see, yes, because my friends stepped up to the plate when I asked, but mostly because I watched this kid who thought no one, including close family members, cared about her and her aspirations, and then she just observed while anonymous people donated to help her out.  You cannot believe the change in countenance that happens when someone thinks others believe in them.

I was touched by a couple of these donations in particular.  They were made anonymously online, so my little friend had no idea who they were, but I knew who and in some cases how much because of the string of events that happened.  And because I know these people, I also know how much of a privation a commitment like this might mean.  I wrote to everyone I personally knew who had donated to thank them, a) for making a very real difference in this girl's life and b) for helping me to see some good in the world during a much needed time too.  One person wrote me back to basically say, "You're welcome; I decided to put another couple hundred dollars in."

Wait a second, I thank you for doing something good and you respond by doing some more good stuff?  People, what am I gonna do with you?  This is not the narrative I hear when I flip past the block of news channels on my cable box.  

But what they reminded me was that this... this is far more my experience with people in the world than not.  And if I don't like the world the way it is, well I need to work to change it.  It doesn't have to be hard.  I might not be able to do everything to directly affect issues of social justice and fairness that I feel need to be addressed. But I can do something.  

It might not make a difference to everyone that I tried to do something, but it does make a difference to the ones for whom I do it.

Once upon a time, there was an old man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach every morning before he began his work. Early one morning, he was walking along the shore after a big storm had passed and found the vast beach littered with starfish as far as the eye could see, stretching in both directions.  

Off in the distance, the old man noticed a small boy approaching.  As the boy walked, he paused every so often and as he grew closer, the man could see that he was occasionally bending down to pick up an object and throw it into the sea.  The boy came closer still and the man called out, “Good morning!  May I ask what it is that you are doing?”
The young boy paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up onto the beach and they can’t return to the sea by themselves,” the youth replied. “When the sun gets high, they will die, unless I throw them back into the water.”
The old man replied, “But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.”

The boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned, smiled and said, “But it does make a difference to the ones I throw back!”

- adapted from The Star Thrower, by Loren Eiseley