Throwing Starfish

Caroline - Raleigh, North Carolina
Entered on May 22, 2008

Throwing Starfish

A young boy and his father walked along the edge of a beach. As they walked, they noticed thousands and thousands of starfish that had been washed up onto the shore. The boy’s father reached down and began to throw back each starfish he saw, one by one. The little boy looked up at his father in confusion and asked why he was throwing the starfish in the ocean. His father replied, “Without water, these starfish will die.”

“But, there must be a million starfish washed up on this beach,” the little boy said. “You can’t save them all.”

“No,” said the father, “but I can save one.”

I believe in throwing starfish into the ocean. In the wake of the recent tragic cyclone in Myanmar, it’s hard to see what we can possibly do to help. With over 100,000 people dead, over 1 million homeless, over 10 billion dollars in damage and a military regime that will not accept foreign aid, this situation looks hopeless; like a beach covered in starfish. But sometimes it doesn’t take a grand gesture; it is often enough to simply throw back one starfish.

Every Thursday evening a few members of my church and I teach English to a family of refugees from Myanmar. While two hours a week teaching the alphabet and reading Dr. Seuss may not change the world, it has changed their family and mine. The world is changed by small people doing small things. But these small deeds acted out of huge love can be the most powerful agents of change and repair. Even though our ESL classes will never mend the unspeakable horror in Myanmar, it may just be enough. Sometimes it is enough simply to bake a cake to celebrate Moei Cho’s sixth birthday or to help Win Jo understand that he is, in fact, 43, not 64. It is often enough simply to be there; to wrap yourself around another person and in turn be surrounded by their love.

By putting faces on the starfish, we cannot help but throw them back into the water. Our greatest challenge and our greatest joy is to build relationships that challenge us and, in turn, make us who we are. Loving each person with the kind of unreasonable, unconditional love that the father showed to the starfish is the reason we are here; I believe that that’s the point.

I believe in doing those things which my mind tells me are pointless, but my heart says are necessary and urgent. Though I may never be able to end the death penalty, I can sing carols at the prison on Christmas morning and send cards to death row inmates. Though I may never be able to end the disease and suffering in Africa, I can put medicine on a little boy’s back and hold a little girl until she stops crying. Though I may never be able to end racism and discrimination, I can try to love everyone with a heart that is free of judgment and does not deal in passed-down divisions. Like the father who threw the starfish back into the sea, I believe in doing those things which are like drops in an ocean but which inevitably make all the difference. I believe that in times of such overwhelming tragedy, the only way to overcoming it is with small acts of equally overwhelming love.