What can I give Him,
Poor as I am? --
If I were a Shepherd
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise (One)
I would do my part, --
Yet what I can I give Him, --
Give my heart.
~ based on a poem by Christina Rossetti
(many of us know it as "In the Bleak Mid-Winter")
This is probably my favorite Christmas carol. I find myself humming it at the most unexpected times. The old Music Therapist in me believes that whenever a melody appears, it’s important to sing it from start to finish and pay attention to the words. More often than not, there is a gift somewhere in the lyrics that my subconscious knew I needed at just that moment. This carol came to me a few days back. When I was singing this fifth verse, I had a notion why.
These are incredible times in which we live. As Dickens would say, “They were the best of times and the worst of times.” These are days that are continually surprising, bringing out somehow at the same time - our best and our worst. Our politics are ruling the day and our spirits are being dragged far behind. Missing, so often seems to be our leaning more in the direction of Anne Herbert’s “practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty." And boy do I miss the we we were when she'd wrote those simple, life-saving words on a place mat in 1982.
There’s an old story about a starfish-covered beach after a storm. The story goes that a grandfather and his young grandson loved to walk that beach. After the storm had passed, the boy ran on up ahead of his grandfather. The old man could see the boy reaching down and appearing to throw something into the waves that were coming ashore. Over and over and over again. As the grandfather got closer, he could see that the boy was picking up the starfish that covered the beach. One after another, the boy would lean down, pick up the starfish and heave it as far as he could into the water. When he was near enough to the boy, the old man asked him what in the world the boy was doing. “Throwing them back in,” his grandson replied, not stopping to even look at the man. “If I don’t throw them in, they will die in the sun.” “Why, my boy,” he said, "there must be thousands of them. You can’t possibly throw them all back in the water. You won’t really be able to make much of difference.” The boy picked up the next closest starfish and threw it farther than he’d thrown any of the others. Then he turned to his grandfather, “It made a difference to that one,” the boy said as he continued down the beach.
The work before us is great. Most every place we turn there are people who are hurting. Missteps on our left and right are ruling the day. It would be understandable to be like the grandfather walking the beach. Even as he approached his grandson, he probably was shaking his head. The old man's heart probably ached for all the starfish as far as his eyes could see. It would be incredible to be like the young boy. The two walked the same beach. They saw the same sight. Something from somewhere stirred in the boy to reach down and pick up the first starfish and toss it out into the water. And then the second...and then the third. "What can I give him?" We can, you and me, do the next best thing that is right there in front of us.
"It made a difference to that one," they'll hear us say.