One of two stories that has weaved in and out of my life for a long as I can remember, adaptations of The Star Thrower have been a guiding light for my goal in life. It has been a great source of Inspiration (teal and orange mixed) in my life.
I’ll do my best to tell the story with my own words.
There was once a philosopher who studied the world around him, and searched for knowledge in any form. He regularly went to the ocean to ponder and to write. On one such day, the philosopher saw a small figure dancing on the beach in the distance. Curiosity drove him faster in his walk, as he was excited to observe something new.
As he grew closer, he saw that the small figure was not dancing. He saw a boy reaching down to the sand, picking up objects, and throwing them into the ocean waves. The philosopher approached the boy.
“Good morning! May I ask what you are doing?” he called to the boy.
Pausing his work to reply, the boy looked up. “The storm last night washed all these star fish to the shore. I am throwing them back into the ocean.”
The philosopher of course saw the thousands of star fish on the shore, it was a common sight after large storms. He hadn’t paid any attention to it. Curiosity still pressing his mind, he changed his question, “Of course I can see what you are doing, I should have asked why you are doing it.”
“The sun is up, and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back to the sea, then they will die.” the boy replied sadly.
Concern that the boy would suffer further, severe sadness if he contained his hopeless project moved the philosopher to help the boy understand. “My boy, don’t you see how many there are. You are striving to achieve an impossible task. As sad as it is to see a life pass away, it is part of nature. I have studied nature for a long time. If you save a sheep from a wolf, the wolf will starve. It is best to not toil so hard against nature, you can’t make a difference.”
The boy, who had politely listened to the philosopher, bent down to rescue another star fish. Throwing it into the water, he turned and said,
“I made a difference to that one.”
I have always found in this story that the “wise man” was rather stupid. Because of this, I decided to put a new perspective of my own into his words. The point of the story doesn’t change though.
The world is so very broken. While there have been giants of social reform and humanitarian aid throughout history, the world is still filled with pain in every corner. If even these world changing giants couldn’t fix the world, then what hope do I have to do anything? I know they say in school that nothing is impossible, but those sweet words and ideas don’t change reality.
This isn’t to say that we should stop trying, or that it is bad to dream. But I think the perspective is important. Personally, I know my role in life is to support others. I don’t belong on the front stage. But even making a difference in my small corner of the world is hard sometimes. It’s easy to get discouraged and wonder if anything I do really matters. Somehow on those days, no matter how many years it’s been since I’d even thought of this story, the image of a boy throwing star fish into the ocean bubbles up and gives me hope.