Reflection #8

“The Starfish”

Back a few weeks ago the reading was about how difficult it can be to see the positive results of our volunteering. Thomas Merton reminded us that the personal relationships we form make all the difference, even if we can’t measure the results.

There is a story about a starfish — it’s an old story that made a comeback recently, as it was popularized in the book Chicken Soup for the Soul. The original story went something like this:

As an old man walked down a Spanish beach at dawn, he saw ahead of him what he thought to be a dancer. The young boy was running across the sand, rhythmically bending down to pick up a stranded starfish and throw it far into the sea.

The old man gazed in wonder as the young soul again and again threw starfish from the sand into the water. The old man approached him and asked why he spent so much energy doing what seemed a waste of time. The young boy explained that the stranded starfish would die if left until the morning sun.

“But there are thousands of miles of beach, and miles and miles of starfish. How can your effort make any difference?”

The young boy looked down at a small starfish in his hand, and as he threw it to safety in the sea, said, “It makes a difference to this one!”

It’s overwhelming sometimes! It would be easy to think we can’t possibly make a difference. Well, we can. We can make a difference to those few people we encounter during our visit to the nursing home. We must be prepared for what we will see… miles and miles of starfish, and no way to help them all. But with a little time, a little effort, and a little help from above, we’ll make a difference to as many as we can.

“Certainly it is true that behind every human being who cries out for help there may be a million more equally entitled to attention. But this is the poorest of reasons for not helping the person whose cries you hear. How to determine which one of a million sounds surrounding you is more deserving than the rest? You will never know; you will never need to know. Reach out and take hold of the one who happens to be nearest. If you are never able to help or save another, at least you will have saved one.” – Norman Cousins