This is not the story of the camel and the straw that broke the camel’s back. No, it begins with a turtle and a straw, a matter of life and death, and it ‘ends’ (or continues on) with you…
Confused? Don’t worry. Let me start by asking you a question. Have you ever felt overwhelmed by something? Perhaps I should rephrase that….what is it that overwhelms you? It is unlikely that any one of us can go through life without feeling that way.
Perhaps what overwhelms you is just the very fact of life itself and trying to make sense of it all, perhaps you’ve been overwhelmed by personal issues such as exams, family conflict, illness, job stress, death of people you know, job loss, uncertainty, or becoming a spouse or a parent and having the responsibility to care for someone else’s life.
Perhaps other things to add to the list of what overwhelms you may include injustice in the world, the terrible things you hear about on a daily basis in the news, broken societies, melting polar icecaps, cruelty to children, the poaching of endangered animals, global commercial sexual exploitation, bonded labour and sex trafficking. Sadly, very sadly, the list goes on and on. On a daily basis we are overloaded with information that we can barely handle the severity of, and we find ourselves morphing from one stage of ‘coping’ to another, from anger, fear, outrage, passion to make a change, despondency, compassion fatigue, and numbness and desensitisation. What is the right way to react?
And what does a straw and a turtle have to do with any of this after all, you might wonder.
Let me explain. Today I felt overwhelmed. Yes, there are so many issues in the world, our own personal world and the world at large, that vie for our attention and response. We cannot possibly handle them all. But sometimes, one particular thing stands out in our day and calls us to take notice. For me today, it was seeing a picture online of a seabird’s decaying carcass which clearly showed that the poor creature had swallowed batteries, shards of plastic, and pieces of packaging. Yes, there are so many other important things that we need to change in the world, but this, this made my heart sink. Poor little bird. What it must have suffered. The image was an accompanying picture to a petition, that I chanced across, calling for shops to ban the production and selling of plastic straws. Plastic straws are not biodegradable and cause much suffering to marine life. We are suffocating ‘our’ (?!) oceans with packaging, things we as wasteful human beings do not even need, and sea creatures ingest or get caught in such packaging and die because of our negligence and greed. I guess that the person or people who drew up the petition realise that to call for an end to the use of plastic packaging altogether would probably be met with mockery, scorn, and a closed door. So they went on to explain that there had already been small successes with calling certain retailers to stop producing cotton buds with plastic attached, and several retailers took notice and responded positively to a previous petition. They described the suffering of a sea turtle that had to be rescued by professionals and have a plastic drinking straw extracted from its nose, while it winced in pain and bled due to the damage the straw had caused.
One straw. One turtle. One rescue. And ultimately a matter of life and death.
It made me think of the passion behind such movements and calls for change. Can something so small really make any difference at all? Yes. It can make the difference to a turtle’s life, to a child’s, to yours, to mine. While there is so much that we can be overwhelmed by, drowning in a sea of our own mistakes and the degradation of mankind as it is today, there is still so much to be empowered and impassioned by.
Dare to believe that the removal of one small straw made a difference to a turtle’s life and relieved it of its suffering. Dare to believe that for good or bad the ‘power of one’ goes far beyond itself. That the power of one bad thought or one good thought can have a ‘ripple effect’ that reverberates and impacts so much more outside of itself.
What if we were to do one small thing for good rather than for bad? To think one positive thought in place of a negative one? To do that one small thing, so small, as small as a plastic straw that you wouldn’t even think it significant? What would that be for you? What difference could one apology make to a relationship? What difference could one smile or kind word make to someone’s life? What difference could one act of repentance make to your life? What difference could that one letter, phone call, text message to someone you care about make? What difference could signing a petition make? What difference can one blog post make? What difference could that one prayer, one conversation, one reconciliation make? What difference could one small step in the right direction make? We could think of it negatively too….what difference could one ‘small’ lie, harsh word, bullet make?
Perhaps a ripple on a pond moving outwards. Perhaps the matter of life and death.
What one small difference will you make today?