Starfish (A poem by Mary Oliver)
In the sea rocks,
in the stone pockets
under the tide’s lip,
in water dense as blindness
like too many thumbs.
I knew this, and what I wanted
was to draw my hands back
from the water – what I wanted
was to be willing
to be afraid.
But I stayed there,
I crouched on the stone wall
while the sea poured its harsh song
through the sluices,
while I waited for the gritty lightning
of their touch, while I stared
down through the tide’s leaving
where sometimes I could see them –
their stubborn flesh
lounging on my knuckles.
What good does it do
to lie all day in the sun
loving what is easy?
it never grew easy,
but at last I grew peaceful:
my fear diminished
as they bloomed through the water
like flowers, like flecks
of an uncertain dream,
while I lay on the rocks, reaching
into the darkness, learning
little by little to love
our only world.
With so many seemingly intractable problems in the world, it’s fair to ask if one person can really make a difference? Are you asking that of yourself? Is that holding you back from making the change you want to make?
Consider “The Starfish Story” (adapted from the original by Loren Eiseley below)…
“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 woman, and that what she was doing was not dancing at all. The young woman 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 woman 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 woman 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 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 woman bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, she said, “It made a difference for that one.”