- Well now, this is strange: I could have sworn I had written this out in my journal, but it's nowhere to be found. Did I dream it...? Has it simply been so vividly alive in my head that I had only thought I had written it out...?
Well now, here it is.
The week before I left for Gathering in June, I found myself reflecting on two images that seemed related to each other yet were very different.
(NOTE: Embellishments to the original story and changes in gender and ages of the characters are my own.)
There is a popular story about how we can make a difference in life, which basically goes like this:
One day, a little girl walking along the beach notices thousands of starfish just out of reach of the water. Off in the distance, she sees a person who is bending down, reaching for something, and tossing something into the waves. As she approaches, she realizes it's an old woman, tossing starfish one by one back into the ocean.
A bit skeptical about what good any of this will do, given how many starfish lay on the miles and miles of beach, the girl says to the old woman, "There are so many starfish out here, and the waves will just keep dumping more of them here all day, why waste your time, what difference will it make?"
To which the old woman bends down, picks up a starfish, and frisbees it over the water back into the waves.
"Well, I made a difference to that one."
Babies in the river
And then there's the second story, which I embellished quite a bit from a brief remark in Linda Stout's book (p. 106, with a reference to Rosie's Place in Boston).
There is a village of kind folk, living near a river. One day, as a group of children were playing by the river, they noticed something funny coming down to them from upstream.
There were babies in the river!
The children ran into the village, yelling to everyone they came across, "There are babies in the river! There are babies in the river!"
The village emptied out and everyone ran to the river to see for themselves. Those who got there first quickly started wading into the river and grabbed at the infants to pull them out, passing them by their tiny arms and legs to other villagers who had arrived seconds after them.
But the babies kept coming.
After an hour, two hours, three hours of pulling babies from the river, a few of the oldest villagers, too feeble to help with the rescue effort, fell back away from the riverside.
They didn't return to the village though.
They headed upstream instead, to see who was throwing babies into the river and what might be done about that.
I think these two images and stories have been with me because they speak to me about the many times I have taken action that amounts to tossing individual starfish into the ocean or pulling drowning babies from the river. The individual lives of those with whom I interact may in fact be changed, whether it's through a financial donation I've made for flood relief, a few volunteer hours in a women's organization, or starting a mentoring relationship with a depressed and isolated pre-teen.
But I mustn't think my work is done.
These days, I have been wondering what keeps me from investigating "upstream"? What keeps me away from coalitions that work to change policy? What keeps me away from organizations that work to change society and not just provide services that address the results of the current system?
(The other day at Meeting for Worship, I practically prayed to be changed by the Spirit intrinsically--but not by being whacked on the side of the head--just so I could get over my own ignorance and unconscious (or conscious!) privilege.)
These images and stories aren't the only things that speak to me and challenge me.
The social class workshop I took at Gathering is still impacting me, more than a week later. The conversations I'm having with my partner, difficult as they are, are stretching me to think beyond class oppression and instead to consider "internalized superiority"--a multigenerational trait of my family and of white, upper class/owning class society, that is hard to point to and harder to break.
The new discussion that has barely emerged at the monthly meeting around marriage equality--and whether to suspend serving as the state's "legal agent" for straight marriages under the care of the meeting--tests my patience as I listen to straight Friends openly talk about not wanting to give up their privilege.
At the same time, I recognize in myself that even giving up any non-unearned privilege I have would be among the hardest thing I would ever choose to do. (By this last point, I mean practical privileges to which I have access, like an iPhone, cable TV, TV in general, the car, multiple days' worth of clothing, access to food co-ops, etc.)
Living with these two stories, though, of the starfish and the babies in the river, makes me realize that there is always more to do. There is always more we can do, if we can convince ourselves and our faith community that it's worth the effort to work towards social change and not just provide social services.