As rescue workers and residents dig through Tsunami debris in Japan, I wish I could be there to help in tangible ways. But I can’t go to Japan. Even though I’m sending money and prayers, they seem insignificant in the face of such great need. It’s a familiar feeling when I consider the needs and problems of the world, and those of my community.
Lots of people cope with these feelings by tuning out the world and focusing on their own needs and pleasures. I’m not that kind of person, however. I believe everyone has a responsibility to contribute to the common good in every way he or she can. We’re interconnected. The character of our lives makes a difference in the nature of the worldwide human community beyond that which we can see.
Think of the world as one enormous garden. Much like the search and rescue teams working in Japan who divide each area into a grid, so too, gardeners work in one section at a time. Each focuses on part of the garden, and does the particular tasks needed to care for that area. Section by section, gardeners pull weeds, clear debris, dig, fertilize, and plant. When each does his or her part, the garden grows towards its potential.
As part of the worldwide human community, we tend a garden so large we can never see the total impact of our efforts. But we do know that each person who tends part of the garden makes a difference to the complete garden.
So, although I can’t comfort mourners in Japan, I can listen to someone here tell me about his father’s death. This is tending part of the human garden. It makes a difference.
I can’t clean up debris in Sendai, but I can pick up litter on my neighbor’s sidewalk and spend a morning removing trash from a river bank. This is tending part of the human garden. It makes a difference.
I can’t clean a statue in Tahir Square like three men I saw in a photo after the Egyptian uprising, but I can be an active citizen where I live.
I’m not the wizened, elderly woman photographed in black abaya and hijab sitting on a sidewalk in Cairo with a white placard that proclaimed, “Yesterday I was a protester.” But I can work on issues in my community and country to improve the quality of life here. This is tending part of the human garden. It makes a difference.
Last week I trimmed enough dead leaves from a plant in my front yard to fill a trash can. Pleased with my work, I stepped back to look at the difference my efforts had made. So many dead leaves remained that it was hard to see any progress. When I looked more carefully, however, I noticed that part of the plant now has space for air and water. This section will probably send up blooms for the first time in several years. My small effort will make a difference.
Learning: I can’t be everywhere, but I can tend part of the human garden and make a difference.