On saving starfish and changing the world

Worthing starfishLast weekend, on a gift of a blue-sky, calm day amidst the violent weather we’ve had of late, we took a family walk on Worthing beach. We enjoyed the gentle, February sun whilst surveying the storm damage, and it wasn’t long before the kids started spotting starfish.

Normally a pretty rare sight in Sussex, we were amazed to see the beach littered with them. Hundreds upon thousands of starfish were strewn along the shingle, presumably thrown there by the raging sea a day or two before. As we started collecting those which looked as though they may still be alive and throwing them back into the sea, I was reminded of my Grandpa who was famous in our family for rescuing stranded starfish whenever the opportunity arose. It was he who first told me the starfish story that I’ve since discovered originated from Loren Eiseley’s story The Star Thrower. The story goes something like this:

A man went for a walk on a beach where starfish had been washed up by the tide as far as the eye could see. He came across a boy who was throwing something into the waves. When he got closer, he asked the boy what he was doing. The boy replied that he was saving the starfish from drying out and dying by throwing them back into the sea.

“There must be thousands of starfish on this beach,” replied the man, “I’m afraid you can’t hope to make much of a difference.”

The boy looked up at him, threw another starfish out to sea and smiled. “Well I just made a difference to that one!” he said.

photo (56)It’s true that the number of starfish we didn’t manage to rescue this weekend was heartbreaking. But I thought of Grandpa’s story and felt glad that we’d managed to make a difference to the ones we did throw back.

Sometimes the world seems overwhelming, whether it’s our personal workload or global problems, and it’s tempting to curl up into a ball of resistance because we think we can’t make any difference. Like that beach full of starfish, the job seems too huge for us to tackle.

Yet every one of us can make a difference. For every bottle we recycle, every piece of litter we pick up, every cup of tea we make for an upset colleague, every time we listen to someone without interrupting, every penny we drop into a charity box, every word of encouragement, every act of kindness, every hug, every smile, every kiss – we are making a difference, and changing the world a little at a time.

As Lao Tzu wrote, “The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.” Next time you feel daunted by the job at hand, start by choosing which starfish you will pick up first.


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