The Day I Learned to Justify

Tend your sick ones, O Lord Christ.
Rest your weary ones.
Bless your dying ones.
Soothe your suffering ones.
Pity your afflicted ones.
Shield your joyous ones.
And all for your love's sake. Amen.
A prayer attributed to St. Augustine of Hippo

* * * * * * *

"REDUCE! REUSE! RECYCLE!" Ms. Scheel scrawled across my first-grade classroom chalkboard then proceeded to show dreadful pictures of mangled fish caught in plastic pop rings, overflowing landfills stretching for miles and oceans rapidly depleting as selfish little girls brushed their teeth for too long.

It was the usual Save-the-Earth bit, and most of my classmates were too busy picking their nose or nibbling erasers to care.

But I sat wide-eyed, slowly twirling the end of my ponytail as Ms. Scheel explained we were all responsible for this earth--this one earth--that it was all we had, that it was sick and that we could make it better.

"We all have a part to play," Ms. Scheel gravely concluded. "Each and every one of us. No matter how big or how small. We can all do something. And we must."

I rushed home that afternoon, headed straight for my room and began scribbling.

I stenciled and colored and shaded and outlined until my hand throbbed. And then, after a quick shake of my wrist, I kept going.

"Honey, are you okay?" my mom asked, concerned. "Why aren't you outside playing?"

"Can't play today, Mom!" I yelled. "I've got a job to do."

She crossed the room and began flipping through the brightly colored posters featuring my version of the dismal earth images and my own crooked "REDUCE! REUSE! RECYCLE!" battle cry.

"Well, you have been busy! And what are these for?" she asked.

"For all the telephone poles," I said matter-of-factly.

"Telephone poles?"

"Yes, Mom," I said, dropping my crayon in frustration. "All the telephone poles. In town. If people see dying fish on every corner, they will stop ignoring them and start saving them. And soon the earth will smile again."

"Of course," she said with a quiet smile. "Well, then I'd better leave you to it."

Each day for two weeks I remained dedicated to the cause. I forfeited freeze tag, soccer matches, sandbox dates and schoolyard fun for hours upon hours of fixated poster-making.

I was motivated. I was energized. I was ready to change the world.

One day, delighted by the ever-growing pile of handmade posters littering my room, I decided to give my cramped fingers a much-needed break and set off on an investigative bike ride to count the number of neighborhood telephone poles and assess how many more posters were needed.

As I pedaled around the neighborhood, I started counting each telephone that I passed.


Slowly, my smile began to fade.


I stopped counting.

"Impossible," I thought to myself.

And after a long ride home, I shuffled to my room, wordlessly stuffed the entire stack of my week's passion into the back of my dusty desk drawer and slammed it shut.

It was too hard. I was so small. And it was just so much easier to forget all about it.

I hoped the fish would understand.

It was nothing personal.

1 comment:

lauren said...

Such awesome writing, and it's even better that that little girl was you. I love your passion and determination. It's rough when we start feeling like because we can't do everything, we shouldn't do anything.

I think the fishies will forgive you.