One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed a boy picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean. Approaching the boy, he asked, “What are you doing?” The youth replied, “Throwing starfish back into the ocean. The surf is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.” “Son,” the man said, “don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You can’t make a difference!”
After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it back into the surf. Then, smiling at the man, he said…” I made a difference for that one.” (Loren Eisley)
You’ve probably read or heard those words before. It is, in many ways, a feel-good story about being willing to do what you can, where you are. I think most of us imagine we would be the child, focused on each small but achievable act, rather than the adult who sees only an enormous, impossible challenge.
I had occasion to recall this story today after reading a Facebook conversation in which the original poster encouraged friends to purchase food from area restaurants who are struggling because of the Covid-19 quarantine restrictions. The post elicited some agreement as folks chimed in to say they had ordered takeout from a number of local establishments. But then another line of thought emerged. It went something like this:
The original poster grew frustrated. For each positive response there was a pushback.
- Most people don’t have that kind of money, you shouldn’t ask them to do that.
- It’ll never last, the support will dry up.
- You don’t realize how worried people are about their investments and mortgages right now.
- It’s not a long term solution.
It’s not enough.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot today. Why do we choose to buy that take-out meal? For that matter, why do we visit and hold the hand of someone gravely ill, help a friend by working for a cause that faces huge resistance, or donate our small contribution to a charity which needs so much? We don’t do these things because we believe that we are The Solution.
We do it because of the relationship we have with those we seek to help. We don’t visit a sick friend to make them well. We visit them because we care for them and because an act of connection and caring is never wasted. The boy in the story was not there to “solve the problem of starfish on the beach.” Each saving motion to scoop up and rescue each individual starfish was an individual sign of love in action.
“I made a difference for that one.”
I came across this quote from the musician Prince last night and it is strikingly applicable here:
Compassion is an action word with no boundaries. It is never wasted.
If we are motivated and are able to support our local restaurants during this horribly difficult time it means far more than an exchange of money for goods. It is an act of connection and caring that says, “We see you in distress. We value you. We do not want you to suffer alone.”
There are miles and miles of beach. There are hundreds of starfish. But the beach is our community, the starfish our neighbors. We reach out a hand to lift them up because we know it makes a difference.
Photo credit: Mickey Gomez