One day, an old man was walking along a beach that was littered with thousands of starfish that had been washed ashore by the high tide. As he walked he came upon a young boy who was eagerly throwing the starfish back into the ocean, one by one.
Puzzled, the man looked at the boy and asked what he was doing. Without looking up from his task, the boy simply replied, “I’m saving these starfish, Sir”.
The old man chuckled aloud, “Son, there are thousands of starfish and only one of you. What difference can you make?”
The boy picked up a starfish, gently tossed it into the water and turning to the man, said, “I made a difference to that one!”
Sometime this year, perhaps by the summer, or maybe by the end of the year, I think it is very likely that there will just be one lifeboat charity in Jersey. As pretty well all commentators on either side have noted, there really is no room for two operations.
And with that will come hurt, upset, wounded pride, and disappointment. With any charitable enterprise, there are ordinary people who support charity events, take out charity boxes, look for small ways in which they can “do their bit”.
These are the people of the starfish parable, those who are not the big names, not the crews who go out to save lives and risk their own. They cannot do that, but they do their own small bit, and make an emotional investment: they make a commitment.
The late Stephen Jay Gould said that we should not overlook the “10,000 acts of kindness, too often unnoted and invisible as the ’ordinary’' efforts of a vast majority.” These “uncountable deeds of kindness” make a difference.
But when an enterprise comes to an end, when it is acknowledged that for everything, there is a time and place, a time to live and a time to die, there will be very much a time of grief over what has been lost, over all those small efforts that seem to have been pointless.
They are not pointless, of course, because they point to the fundamental decency and compassion of ordinary human beings. It is the way we travel on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho and how we respond to that calls help others, that call to the heart, that is just as important.
But what is not needed is gloating by those victorious, or for that matter, anger at the other parties by those who are not: the cause that survived, while yours did not. They acted in good faith just as you did. They wanted to help in a small way, to contribute to saving lives, to making the world a better place. They acted for the same motives, the same good motives, for the same good ends: to help other people.
What is needed, which is always hard, is reconciliation and forgiveness. Forgiveness is a hard thing. It is easy when there is no hurt, no pain, no grief, but where there is, anger can the response: to hit out at the others, to see the world in black and white, just us and them. Forgiveness is perhaps the hardest thing anyone can do, because the things that truly need forgiving are usually those that hurt the deepest.
But until there is a breaking of the barriers, there cannot be reconciliation and peace, where there was enmity.
So whatever the outcome of the lifeboat saga, don’t forget the unseen people, the ordinary people, the people who put their heart and soul into this, only to have their hearts broken. And it may well feel like that to them.
Reconciliation is a very difficult and slow process, but it is our only hope for a better future. Mennonite peace builder John Paul Lederach describes it as "a meeting ground where trust and mercy have met, and where justice and peace have kissed."
For Christians, reconciliation is at the heart of the gospel message. The apostle Paul says in the letter to the Ephesians:
“‘For he [Jesus the Messiah] himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.”
“Perhaps one day, all these conflicts will end, and it won't be because of great statesmen or churches or organisations like this one. It'll be because people have changed. They'll be like you, Puffin. More a mixture. So why not become a mongrel? It's healthy.”