A while back, a lady with whom I have become good ‘virtual’ friends posted a story. It made such a difference to me on those days when I feel really sad or depressed that I can do so very little. This story spoke right to the heart of me, and I suspect it will with you too, if you have ever been the champion of the underdog, the fighter of lost causes, the one voice against the masses. And if you have been a champion, a fighter, a lone voice, it can be very easy to give up and to give in.
The story is called The Star Thrower, and it is the perfect antidote to feeling like you are little but a drop in the ocean. Written originally by an American anthropologist called Loren Eiseley, it has been adapted many times. I think every new teacher should have this story above their desk, and every doctor, every nurse, every volunteer, every police officer, every fire-fighter. If you are in the ‘helping’ industry, this story should be your mantra. It will uplift you when you need it, reaffirm your purpose every day, and remind you of why you have chosen the often difficult and depressing path that you have.
The Star Thrower
“Once upon a time, there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work.
One day, as he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who would dance to the day, and so, he walked faster to catch up.
As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean.
He came closer still and called out “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”
The young man paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean.”
“I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?” asked the somewhat startled wise man.
To this, the young man replied, “The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.”
Upon hearing this, the wise man commented, “But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can’t possibly make a difference!”
At this, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean.
As it met the water, he said,
“It made a difference for that one.” “
* * * *
I think it is very easy to lose sight of what you have achieved when there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish that need throwing back in the sea, but something crazy happens when you start doing it. The Star Thrower story isn’t finished if you ask me. If you ask me, the story is just the beginning. Because I bet the wise man understood that he could make a difference, even just a little one, and he probably spent the day helping the young man throw as many starfish to the sea.
I wish everyone would hold that in their heart and know that if we all made a difference – just a little one – every day, then soon, we’d be an army. And an army can make a very big difference indeed.