Like many of you, I've been thinking a lot about the recent tragedy in Parkland, Florida. I find at times like this that it is more important than ever to focus on the things that matter most to us. Caring for the people we love and doing work that makes a difference (whether we get paid to do it or not) are meaningful responses to tragedy. We humans function best when we can take action. Action is an antidote to helplessness. Even so, people are often quick to tell us that our actions won't really matter or won't truly make a difference. They say that nothing can be done, or that our society is beyond hope. If you hear that response, you might tell those people the story of the starfish on the beach. This is a story my dad told me a long time ago, and it's always stuck with me. Here is what is thought to be the original version of this story, written by Loren Eiseley:
“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.”
What the boy on the beach understood is that the difference we make is not measured by the number we help--it is measured by the energy we bring to our actions. If we can listen for the still, small voice inside that comes from a place of love, we can respond to those around us from that same place. Any action carried out from that place of love and compassion makes a difference, however small it might seem. It is our consciousness that matters. No starfish mattered more to the boy, but none mattered less either. We can each choose what action counts for us and then go and do it. Mother Teresa said, "I am not sure exactly what heaven will be like, but I don't know that when we die and it comes time for God to judge us, he will NOT ask, How many good things have you done in your life?, rather he will ask, How much LOVE did you put into what you did?" We cannot control the outcome of our actions or, for that matter, the outcome of our lives. But we can absolutely control how we show up each day and how we choose to spend our time. We can spend it feeling angry and helpless, or we can choose to lift the condition of another. The latter (spoiler alert) is a lot more empowering. So start today. Find your starfish. It (or he or she) is waiting.