Is there a stranded starfish in your life that needs saving?
Can you perhaps offer it a kind word, a thoughtful gesture or even a dedicated prayer?
Maybe you have enough influence and strength and faith to lift the dying fish from the burning sands and throw it back into the sea.
Sometimes, when the weight of responsibility is fattening like a monkey on my back, I write an article and cast it out into the world and think ‘what’s the point? Is this really making a difference when there are so many people suffering?’
I have written many articles and planted so many wordy seeds in to the places of the world, but somehow, in the vastness of it all, they feel too little and too late, as though they have been swallowed up by some voracious vortex, or ignored by the immensity of time and space.
Other times I will create a new book, one that I think will really make the difference, my best work yet, a tome that will surely land on the desk of a million troubled souls around the world and give them some divine direction, or at least a little balm.
But (on my darker days) even a million seeds seem insignificant in the scope of it all, like a small boy pissing into a tsunami. Not so much because the words are not potent, and not because there is not a demand, rather it is because the need feels too big and the demand overwhelming.
When I look out into the world, the job seems too big for me to even contemplate, let alone tackle with my paper and my pen.
Everywhere I look people are suffering. A plethora of troubled travellers all trying to find their way home, without even knowing where home might be.
The human condition sometimes feels as though it has no end, certainly it has no cure.
It is at times like this that I feel like throwing my laptop in the river and buying a tea shop by the seaside and running away from it all.
What difference can one man make?
I said to my wife Sharon, I need to do more, what I do feels piddly, like it is not even making a dent. I need to be global. She gave me one of those looks (she has a ‘look’ for such occasions) and said “Geoff, when you spend half an hour on the phone talking a stranger through his depression, that is global.”
Then I read a story that concurred with Sharon’s wise words and it really helped me to cope with my overwhelm…
A writer is sat on the beach with his pad and pen looking for a little inspiration when in the distance, along the shore and silhouette, he sees a small figure dancing back and forward on the sand. He is intrigued. He moves closer to unravel the mystery. As he gets nearer, he sees a little girl, not dancing but running. Back and forward she goes from the sand to the sea, from the sea back to the sand, and at a relentless pace. Closer still he realises that she is not just running fruitlessly as he supposes, she has a purpose; she is saving starfish that have been stranded on the sand by the tide. He watches curiously as she picks up starfish after starfish, runs to the sea and throws them back into the water. The writer smiles at the futility of her action. She is very young, he thinks, she does not understand that she cannot save all the starfish, not even along this one small stretch of sand. The beach is littered as far as the eye can see with stranded stars. Thousands of them. What difference can one small child make? He says to the girl, you’re wasting your time you know, there are thousands of starfish stranded along this one patch of sand alone, and this beach is one of a million just like it all around the world. What you are doing, as worthy as it appears, is a waste of time, it will not make a difference. The little girl looks at the writer for a moment, then picks up and another star fish from the sand and throws in back to the sea. ‘It has made a difference to that one’ she says. And with that she carries on her dance, back and forward from sand to sea, from sea to sand, doing what she can do, and not worrying about trying to do what she can’t.
What I learned from this story is that every act of kindness and service is worthwhile, and worrying about what we leave undone because of our smallness, does not serve anyone, least of all the people that need our help. And allowing ourselves the indulgence of despondency blinds us to the universal bigness that we can all access if we stop thinking so small. Everything we do has a big effect on everything else because everything is connected, even if that connection is not immediately obvious.
Leonardo Da Vinci said that when a bird lands in a tree the whole world changes because everything effects everything. Everything is everything! There is nothing that you can do locally, that will not have an effect on the whole universe.
When you serve one man you serve God.
So I am left feeling inspired again, and I am looking for starfish, and when I find them I am going to do my dance, back and forward from the sand to the sea, from the sea to the sand, saving those I can, praying for those I can’t, because I know that I am with purpose and that every single positive action will ultimately serve everyone, and because everything affects everything, it will also serve me.