First a story: A young girl was walking along the beach early one morning. The tide was receding, leaving numerous starfish stranded on the beach. The girl began picking them up and tossing them back into the water.
Engrossed in her task, she didn’t notice the crusty old fisherman sitting quietly watching her. He startled her with a gruff, “What are you doing?” to which she smiled and enthusiastically replied, “I’m saving the starfish.”
He laughed at her and launched into a scoffing ridicule. “Look ahead of you down the beach,” he said, pointing to the seemingly endless expanse of sand and surf. “There are thousands of starfish washed up on this beach. You can’t hope to save them all. You’re just wasting your time. What you’re doing doesn’t matter,” he exclaimed in a dismissive tone.
The girl stopped, momentarily pondering his words. Then she picked up a starfish and threw it far into the water. She stood straight and looked him in the eye. “It matters to that one,” she said, and continued down the beach.
Why do I tell you this story? Well, this past week, several members from the Ashland Rotary Club flew to Guanajuato, Mexico and I was incredibly fortunate to be a part of that group. With the help of our very generous community, and working with “Mi Casa Diferente”, aka “DIF”, (Mexico’s version of Habitat for Humanity), the Ashland Rotary Club has raised many thousands of dollars to build homes for some of the neediest people of Guanajuato. And while these homes are very simple structures, the people who get them are thrilled to have them and are deeply grateful.
Back in the spring of 2007, during my first visit to Guanajuato with Rotary, we spent a day with a family in one of the communities that had recently built their home. One of the children in that family was a young girl named “Francesca.” She was about eight years old and easily charmed every member of our group with her insatiable curiosity, her lovely smile, and her delight in showing us her new home. When I spoke with Francesca and told her that I had a son named Francesco she seemed to think that this “coincidence” was funny and smiled. She asked about my “other” children and I showed her the photo I’d brought of my daughter, Alexandra. I think that Francesca must have thought it strange for me to have had only two children.
After a few hours, the house was painted, we’d all been fed fresh tortillas in gratitude, and our time with Francesca and her family came to an end. It was very hard to think of leaving and never seeing this delightful, precocious child again for she represented what we were there for: to make a difference in someone’s life.
As we drove away, the DIF representative said that it would be nearly impossible to keep in touch with, or send anything to, Francesca and her family. After all, they lived in a remote area where there was no mail service, and the DIF workers had too much to do and could not guarantee anything that we sent would reach them.
Until last Monday I had all but given up on ever seeing Francesca again. On that day, our group of Rotarians was taken on a ride deep into the hills outside Guanajuato to paint a small schoolhouse. As we unloaded all of our painting supplies we greeted the women and children of the community who had come to help us (most of the men were off at work making charcoal).
As I looked around, I noticed a girl peeking at me from behind the far wall of the schoolhouse. Each time I looked over at her, she ducked back behind the building. I thought she might have been afraid of our group and so I waved and said “hello.” When she looked out again, I noticed that she looked like Francesca and mentioned this to our group’s leader, Angelica. She looked at me and said, “No mija, you want it to be Francesca, but it can’t possibly be her.” Sadly I agreed that she was probably right and I went inside to begin painting the walls of the schoolhouse.
About fifteen minutes later, I heard Angelica screaming my name, “Karen, Karen… it is Francesca!” I raced out of the building to where Angelica was standing with Francesca. They were both smiling at me and my heart almost burst with joy. I asked Francesca if I could hug her and told her how I had thought it was her but had been convinced that this was too much to hope for. I exclaimed, “Este es un milagro” (This is a miracle!) as tears streamed down my face.
As we talked she asked about my daughter, and of course, my son, Francesco. Then she took me a few hundred yards down a steep path to see her mother and her family home – the same one we had painted five years before! She even showed me a pillow we’d brought as a gift way back then… a remembrance of the people who had come to help. And to think I’d thought that this day would never happen… but it seemed that Francesca was not at all surprised. It was as if she’d been expecting this moment all along. Talk about faith!
As we parted ways this time, I told Francesca that this would not be the last time she would see my face and I know that she believed me. She simply waved goodbye and turned to walk back home with her sister. I am certain that Francesca will go on expecting miracles, and it is just as certain that I will do all I can to make sure that they come true.
The very next day, I made an Apple Pie for our home hosts, Oscar and Marta. It was a small gesture to thank them for offering the comfort of their home during our stay… and also a chance to offer my sincerest thanks to the universe for rediscovering a very special starfish.
“The child must know that he is a miracle, that since the beginning of the world there hasn’t been, and until the end of the world, there will not be, another child like him.” Pablo Casals
“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” Albert Einstein