When the tide goes out, thousands of starfish, having crept close to shore in search of food, are stranded on the beach. Every day at low tide, a man walks along the sand, picking up the starfish one by one and returning them to the water.
One day, a stranger happens along and observes this ritual. Puzzled, the stranger questions the man. “Why are you doing this?” asks the stranger. “You can’t possibly make a difference.”
The man returns another starfish to the water, smiles at the stranger, and responds. “I made a difference to that one.”
There was a time I drew strength from that story.
And that is the intent, of course.
This parable, with slight variations, is used to inspire. Be the one who makes a difference, it says. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that your efforts are futile, or that you cannot save them all.
It starts with one.
But that one is work. Back-breaking and heart-rending work. Work done with tenderness and careful handling, with time and with love, yes. But it is work all the same. Day after day after day, it is work.
And sometimes that work is for naught.
She brought the same starfish back to water over and over and over again. She learned its patterns, anticipated its movements. She bent and carried and returned, day after day, again and again.
And then one morning, despite all her efforts to help it thrive, she noticed as she walked the beach that her starfish – her starfish, the one she had studied and loved and led back to safety again and again – had stranded itself further from the sea than ever before.
Staring down, heart heavy with grief, she finally realized that its habits were too ingrained for her to be able to change.
The tide goes out, the clouds roll in. A storm is on the horizon, but it isn’t raining yet.
Except in my eyes.