The Starfish

(The Nationalist, 20 October 2006)


Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, an elderly man was taking a walk along the beach. He was relaxed and content. The sun shone brightly in the sky, the birds wheeled and sang, the waves washed ashore, the sand was firm underfoot, and a gentle breeze tempered the heat.

Some distance in front of him, the man saw the figure of a young man who was behaving strangely. He bent down from time to time, went over to the sea, bent down, and then back to the strand again as he walked along. ‘What’s he doing?’, thought the old man, ‘Maybe he’s just happy, celebrating life with this strange dance of his. I’ll ask him’.

A few moments later they met and greeted each other, ‘Good morning’. ‘A beautiful day’. ‘Isn’t it lovely by the sea?’ And so on. Then the elderly man said, ‘As I was walking along I saw you bending down, and then going over to the sea and back again. Do you mind if I ask what you were doing? ‘Not at all’, replied the young man. ‘Do you see all those starfish that have been washed up on the shore? The whole length of beach is lined with them. They’re exposed to the wind and sun, and they’re drying up. A drying starfish is a dying starfish, so I’m putting as many of them as I can back into the water. Those that survive will produce the next generation of starfish, and life will go on’.

‘How many have you put back in? asked the old man. The young man replied, ‘I don’t know; maybe fifty or sixty’. ‘So what’s the point?’ said the old man. That’s such a tiny number among the thousands that line the shore. What difference does it make?’ The young man didn’t reply. He bent down, picked up a starfish, and carried it back to the water. Almost immediately, it took on a healthy, natural appearance as if happy to be back in its own environment. ‘It made a difference to that one’, he said.

The old man said nothing, but quietly thanked the young man, and began his journey home. As he walked along he thought to himself, ‘I’ve learned something good today. You can’t do everything, but you can do something. It’s better to do something, even if it’s only a small thing, than to do nothing because of being unable to do everything. No one can do everything, but everyone can do something’. He continued on his way.

Then he stopped, bent down, picked up a starfish, and put it in the water. A few steps later, he did the same again, thinking, ‘If one person does a small thing, it remains a small thing. If many people do a small thing, it becomes a big thing. Today has been a good day’.


For those in a hurry: ‘Those who are faithful in small things, will be faithful also in big things’. (Jesus, in Luke 16.10)