You know I love analogies. And today I've got two of them to weave together, so bear with me.
In anticipation of traveling to Ethiopia to meet our daughter 7 years ago, I read an emotion-stirring, eye-opening book titled, There is No Me Without You.
"How on earth," I asked my mom, only 45 or so pages in, "am I going to be able to leave behind all the other kids who need a forever family?"
A few weeks later, a package arrived in the mail from my mom. It was a sterling silver starfish charm, along with the following story:
To be clear, I have never thought of my daughter as someone I saved. Far from it. In fact, in many ways it's been very much the other way around. There were many people in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, however, who needed assistance---and that starfish charm reminded me that there is value in focusing on helping one person instead of on the fact that you can't help everyone.
There was the old man sitting on the side of a bridge with an open wound on his hand. There were children on the backs of other children desperate for food. There were hundreds of people with makeshift shoes, or no shoes at all. There were babies in government orphanages, two or three to a crib, with blanket-propped bottles because there simply wasn't sufficient staff to personally feed them all.
It was heartbreaking not to be able to do what we could easily do in this country --- bandage a wound and provide antibiotics, donate shoes, feed a baby and know that he'd never again be fed by a blanket, lead someone to a shelter where they could have a warm bed and food.
My travel companions and I focused on what we could do for one.
For the children with children on their backs, we gave our containers of peanut butter (which is like gold in Addis Ababa). For people without shoes, we gave shoes. To the kids in the orphanage looking for entertainment, I gave harmonicas. I almost immediately regretted it, and the staff probably hopes I never return, but nonetheless. For the man with the gaping wound, I said a prayer. And I watched in awe as one of the dads traveling with us jumped out of our slowly moving van and ran to the side of the road to pray over a disabled, homeless man.
There are so many people in need in this world. In this country. In this state. In my own neighborhood. When each of us focuses on what we can do for one person, we can collectively help a whole lot of people.
Tessa Prothera is a beautiful, vibrant, determined little girl battling neuroblastoma, which in and of itself is unfathomable to me---and not only is she fighting this beast with everything she's got, she's dancing in the rain instead of waiting for the storm to pass.
When I come across people like that --- especially when they are kids --- I think, "I could not be more disgusted with myself for thinking the day was ruined because Starbucks was out of coconut milk."
Those moments are what I call a DIP: a Dose of Immediate Perspective. And they are what drive me to walk along starfish-covered beaches. I don't pick up starfish because I believe that I'm saving them. I pick them up because I take one look at them, and they save me with their Dose of Immediate Perspective.
Yesterday I walked the beach, and one of the starfish was dancing. Her name is Tessa. And I picked her up.
Keep Dancing, beautiful girl.
*Proceeds from the sale of each Keep Dancing bracelet will be donated to Tessa's medical, travel and dance party fund.