Touching One Life at a Time

sarooWhile out last night for a Valentine’s Day date, Vicky and I caught the Academy Award nominated film, Lion. All I knew before we walked into the theater was that it was nominated for Best Picture this year…and that it was convenient to see after the time of our dinner reservation. What an incredible film! It’s based on a true story of a five year old boy, Saroo, who gets separated from his family and is forced to live the dangerous life of a boy on the streets. He encounters multitudes of indifferent people, a few who would even inconceivably seek to harm him, but also a few who offer some help along the way.  He is eventually found by authorities, taken into an orphanage and later adopted by a family in Australia.  After seeing the depth of loneliness and the height of fear of one young child in this situation, the movie ends with statistic that each and every year, 80,000 children in India alone find themselves lost and on the streets. Every year. And just in that one country. The credits of the film point audience members to organizations working to alleviate this kind of suffering.

How do we react with such profound suffering on such a monumental scale? Perhaps the most common reaction is to turn and look away. While it could be from indifference, it may also be from just being overwhelmed when faced with such overwhelming need. We want to do something, but sometimes we just can’t get ourselves to begin. So how do we change?

We most often associate the Lenten season that begins in a few weeks with increased prayer and fasting. But even a superficial look at the hymns we will sing tells us that our prayer and fasting are not the ends but the means—the means to bring us closer to God. Specifically, we hopefully understand more profoundly the meaning of the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ. But even that is not the end. We do this to receive His love and then to reach out as His Hands to a world so full of needs. These are the Two Commandments: Love God, and in so doing love our neighbors, especially the neediest ones, like Saroo.  One of the hymns from the first week of Lent reads:

“While fasting physically, brethren, let us also fast spiritually. Let us loose every knot of iniquity. Let us tear up every unrighteous bond. Let us distribute bread to the hungry, and welcome into our homes those who have no roof over their heads, so that we may receive great mercy from Christ our God.” (Stichera Verse for Wednesday of the First Week, The Triodion)

So yes, Lent is our “school of repentance,” our time for change. One of the ways we will try to change is to stop being indifferent to a world in such desperate need for help. But we also need to change from being overwhelmed. We need to understand that we don’t begin by addressing the needs of 80,000, or 800, or even 8. We begin by addressing the needs of one, whoever that one might be. It might be with the dollar we put into our “Food for Hungry People” boxes, which we’ll distribute soon and try to fill during Lent. It might be the Subway gift card we hand to a homeless person on the corner. It might be the phone call or visit to a home-bound fellow parishioner. But it starts with one. There’s a story often told that illustrates this point.

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, “It made a difference to that one!”

Let’s set a goal that this Lent will be a time for us to change, specifically that we grow more and more to become people who bring change to those that need it most, one life at a time.