Our world today has more than its share of problems. Political unrest, economic instability, violence, intolerance, the disparity between rich and poor, environmental concerns, and any number of “-isms” have created a climate of intense fear and uncertainty across the globe. In his book The Exquisite Risk, author Mark Nepo tells a delightful story which he attributes to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the Colombian novelist, short story writer, screenwriter, and journalist, who died in 2014. The story provides food for thought about how we might deal with the problems confronting us today.
Somewhere, in a time like our own, a father is pensively trying to solve the world’s problems when his little boy comes in and says, “Father, I want to help.” The weary man appreciates the gesture, but only feels the child’s presence as a hindrance. But the boy persists. So the father takes a map of the world and rips it up into little pieces, gives them to the boy, and says, “I know you like puzzles. You can help by piecing the world back together.” The boy protests, “But Father, I don’t even know what the world looks like!” His father laughs, “Nonetheless, this is how you can help,” and he sends him off, expecting that this will occupy his son for days.
And so the pensive man returns to his weary reflections. Two days later, his son comes bounding in, shouting, “Father! Father! I’ve put the world back together!” And sure enough, all the torn pieces are taped into a beautiful whole. His father is stunned, “But how did you do this?”
The boy is eager to show him and turns the map of the world over, saying, “On the back was a picture of a person, Father. I put the person back together and then turned it over and the world was back together!”
Therein lies the challenge -- to put the world back together by putting ourselves back together.
No one, on their own, can solve the world’s problems. In fact, most people I know feel relatively helpless to do anything to significantly impact the various challenges confronting humanity today. I understand this frustration. I experience it myself, which is precisely why I was so moved by the profound wisdom of this story. As Nepo points out in his book, “Each time we take the exquisite risk... [of] affirming that we are, at heart, each other, we put the world back together. The truth is that each of our struggles matters, and we need each other to turn the story of our lives over to see how they so beautifully go together.”
We are each other. Everyone matters. Or, as my mother taught me countless times in my youth, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” We need companions on the journey, and we need to be companions for others. It is essential, therefore, that we do everything we can to put ourselves back together first. Only by doing so can we begin to actively participate in the formidable task of putting our fragmented world back together.