Yesterday my young daughter and I cooked a meal together; she is keen to learn cooking by doing cooking. Then we all sat down at the table to eat together – something we do every meal. As we were eating my sons said they liked the food and thanked us for cooking it. Then I made the mistake of saying “As you eat this meal think of the millions of people like you, like us, who are starving”.
My youngest son said that he didn’t like me mentioning the poor, the starving, when we are eating as it makes him upset. And he cannot then enjoy his food. My wife said pretty much the same thing. Whilst I was at first very upset about this as I considered their viewpoint I selfish one, I am now grateful to them as they have opened my eyes.
There is tremendous violence, oppression, destruction, poverty and suffering going on around the world. Even here in the UK there are people who do not have enough money to feed themselves and their children, so some of them go without to feed their children; there are young women tricked into coming over to the UK and then forced to work as prostitutes and the list goes on….And most of us, for most of the time, close our eyes. Why?
Not because we do not care. It is precisely because we care AND we believe ourselves to be helpless to make any impact on this ocean of suffering that we close our eyes, we close our ears, we close our hearts. Some of us go as far as being hostile to / critical of those that suffer: if they are suffering then they must be responsible. Why do we do this? By living into this view we can distance ourselves from the pain – our pain.
I care, you care, we care: if we did not then it would make no difference if we invited in the suffering into our lives. And yet we feel helpless so what can we do? This reminds me of the story about a fellow walking along the beach littered with thousands of starfish. He notices a young woman on the beach who is doing some kind of yoga exercise. As he draws near he realises that she bends down, picks up a starfish and then throws the starfish into the ocean. And again, and again…
The man laughs. He walks up to the young woman and tells her that the whole beach is covered with starfish. She cannot possibly save them all: she is not in a position to make any difference at all. The young woman picks up another starfish and whilst throwing “it” (a horrible world for any living creature) into the ocean says: “I made a difference to that starfish.”
The lesson is clear for those of us who are ready to step into the lesson. We can act according to our ability. We can simply be aware of and present to the violence, destruction, suffering that is going on all around us. It may not help others and it certainly will help us: we can become more grateful for our circumstances – our life of plenty.