Starfish Story

I’ve been thinking about starfish. The thoughts started when I read this article
about how to keep writing when no one cares
. Halfway through reading the article, after a litany of evidence that people don’t care (for which I had all too much sympathy), before she got to the part where she explains why she writes anyway, I began to think of that story about starfish.

You know the one. A quick google search brings up a hundred versions. The beach covered in starfish and a single person throwing them back into the ocean one by one. When someone asks why the person bothers, what difference does it make? The person throws one more starfish and says “I made a difference to that one.”

I wish I knew who first wrote that starfish story. I wonder if that writer was in a place of pain, trying to convince herself to keep going when the effort seemed futile. It seems likely to me that she was. Only a person who has struggled with futility could understand why helping even one matters. I’ve heard this story since I was very young. It has been around forever, attributed to everyone and no one. It is likely that the original writer is long gone. Did she have any idea how far her words would go, carried on the currents of an internet she probably never imagined? Perhaps this starfish story also seemed like a futile cry into the void.

That gives me hope. It is not only when I’m alive and chucking starfish that my actions or words can make a difference. The good things I put out into the world can spread out far beyond my reach. They can last longer than my life. They can change and transform so that no one will every be able to trace them back to me. I may never get full credit for them, but credit is not the point. It never was, even though our egos want it to be. We don’t expect the starfish to come back and say thank you. It is the throwing that matters, the attempt to use action to help another.

Time for me to get to work putting good things out into the world. That is how the world becomes better.

3 thoughts on “Starfish Story”

  1. You and your husband and children are a shining example of thriving ‘in spite of’. I am proud and blessed to call Howard friend. I look forward to meeting you some day. Your starfish instinct is correct – but man, can you hold a lot of starfish!! God Bless.

  2. Um. I probably haven’t mentioned this recently enough, but of my entire blogroll right now, yours is one of about three that I read immediately when I see you have posted. I find your writing to be frank and open about real problems, and yet not depressing in the slightest. It is usually just what I need to ground myself. At the moment, for instance, I’m thinking that if your writing helps me this much, maybe I should stop whining about how my writing is useless, and just start doing it.

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