Making a Difference

Do you know the heart-warming story of the starfish thrower who would walk along the beach throwing stranded starfish back into the ocean? When it was pointed out to him that there were thousands of starfish stranded along the beach, so many that his actions could make no real difference, he picked up another one and threw it back saying, “well, it made a difference to that one.”

One time when my daughter was very young, perhaps about five years old, we went on holiday to Portugal. We spent many happy hours on the beach, her catching small fish and crabs in her plastic bucket and me just taking it easy, playing with her, doing a bit of swimming and reading a few books. One day, she found a starfish that had been baked hard in the sun. We looked at it together marvelling at how wonderful these creatures are and then I finally tossed it aside on the beach and got back to reading my book.

However, she retrieved the starfish, filled her frisbee with sea water and put the little fellow in there. After about an hour or so, she brought the frisbee over to me to announce that the starfish was alive. Of course, I had previously seen it as stiff as a board and so, at first, I just thought that this was a bit of her childhood imagination at work. But she pointed out that the fish was laying toward the edge of the frisbee that was in the shadow. She then turned the frisbee to expose the fish to the sun and very slowly, the starfish made its way back to the shadow on the other side.

With the logic of a five year old, she then asked if she could keep it as a pet. After I had explained why she couldn’t, I said that we would need to throw him back into the sea to give him a chance to live. She then asked me if she could keep it just for one night in the hotel. Well, I thought she had earned the right, so I agreed. She brought some fresh sea water in her bucket and looked after him as best as you could with such limited resource.

The next day, we took him down to the harbour where the water was deepest and I threw him as far as I could out to sea. We both felt really pleased that she had saved him and given him a second chance. She has probably forgotten all about the incident now, but one day, when an angel shows her what life would have been like if she had not been born (like in the movie Wonderful Life), the spirit of that little starfish will be there to thank her.

Sometimes, we may feel that there is just so much wrong with the world that we cannot possibly make a difference. But, in fact, we can. Like the starfish thrower, you can make a difference to an individual. The world can indeed be changed by ordinary people, just like you, performing tiny, apparently inconsequential actions. Remember too that you can help people you don’t know personally. Perhaps you could try performing a random act of kindness today.

As Mother Theresa once put it, “if you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.”

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