The Power of One
I’m a sucker for the underdog — literally. I’ve never been able to resist a pair of soulful brown eyes. And so I take in whatever finds its way to my front door: stray dogs, abandoned kittens, even a sulfur-crested cockatoo, aptly named Rocky.
The Philippines is an animal lover’s nightmare — a national epidemic of homeless cats and dogs giving birth in an endless cycle. Tags and licenses – are you joking? Poop and scoop – give me a break. Vaccinations? Dream on. Spaying and neutering — only for the wealthy.
It’s sad that so much beautiful potential is wasted. I remember the day I spotted a tiny black and white kitten about to crawl into a busy street and, without thinking, I snatched him up and took him home. He survived his filthy, scrawny start to life and became Poncho-cat, one of my best buddies for the past seven years.
Not everyone approves of my collection of waifs and strays. “You can’t change the world” is my partner’s favorite comment whenever I bring home a kitten I’ve found in a garbage heap. “It’s not your country, you can’t worry about it,” he says. And he’s right. But should the fact that we can’t change the world or even make a significant difference stop us from trying?
I found the answer to my question in Cambodia. In the midst of a country whose soil is still tainted by the blood of murdered millions, there is a lovely little restaurant called the Starfish Cafe, part of an ambitious project aimed at helping Cambodian street children learn job skills so they can move off the streets and into happier lives. There are only small miracles here — the child might become a waiter or a cook or a cashier — but a lucky few homeless children learn a marketable skill, earn an income and work in a beautiful place. The number of Starfish Project kids is a drop in the bucket compared to the huge numbers who remain impoverished and on the streets. But still they try.
What I love is that the Starfish Project was named after this wonderful Buddhist parable:
A Buddhist monk was on the beach with his apprentice the day after a fierce storm. Thousands of starfish had been washed up and stranded on the shore. Stooping down, the monk carefully lifted a single creature and returned it to the sea. His young apprentice wondered aloud why his master bothered to do this when it made little difference to the mass of helpless creatures. As they walked along, the monk picked up another single starfish and replied, “It makes a difference to just this one.”
And so the next time someone asks me why I bought a Siamese fighting fish who was living in half an inch of water in the bottom of a plastic cup, I have the perfect answer: “Because it matters to him.”