The Boy and the Starfish and the Possible Impossible

Part of why I love getting to deliver trafficking awareness sessions to groups of people in various contexts and of various backgrounds is that it means that I get to meet many wise people along the way, and their conversation often feels like fresh water on a desert path (not that my life is a desert path: their words are just that good.)

After tonight’s session, a man came to ask me about some things he had picked up on. He then asked if I found it distressing to be involved in what is often dark and seemingly bleak work. I told him that it was, of course, and talked about some of the things that are difficult at the minute. He shared with me a story that I’d heard before but that hadn’t really had any impact on me. I found it online and wanted to share it with you, too.

The Boy and the Starfish

A man was walking along a deserted beach at sunset. As he walked he could see a young boy in the distance. As he drew nearer he noticed that the boy kept bending down, picking something up and throwing it into the water.
Time and again he kept hurling things into the ocean.

As the man approached even closer, he was able to see that the boy was picking up starfish that had been washed up on the beach and, one at a time, was throwing them back into the water.

The man asked the boy what he was doing. The boy replied,”I am throwing these washed-up starfish back into the ocean so that they don’t die from lack of oxygen. “But”, said the man, “you can’t possibly save them all. There are thousands on this beach, and this must be happening on hundreds of beaches along the coast. You can’t possibly make a difference.”

The boy looked down, frowning for a moment; then bent down to pick up another starfish, smiling as he threw it back into the sea. He replied,

“I made a difference to that one.”

I was asked in an interview for Agenda NI a couple of months ago if, whilst abolishing slavery was a worthy aim, it wasn’t quite impossible. Realistically, there is an awful lot against the abolition of modern-day slavery. But, I answered, in our efforts, if one or ten or one hundred slaves can be rescued, and thus, a difference can be made to them; surely we must carry on.

And whilst that is enough to keep us going, I don’t think we must just content ourselves with that. As many in Belfast celebrated the city’s marathon and its runners yesterday, the day also marked the 59th anniversary of the day Roger Bannister became the first person on record to run a mile in under 4 minutes. It seems that the impossible just might sometimes turn out to be possible.

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One response to “The Boy and the Starfish and the Possible Impossible

  1. Love this story. A story with a message that you can make a difference, one at a time. But it’s strong on individualism – individual action resulting in individual rescue.
    Had the story been written for the 21st century, it would maybe be quite different. Maybe it would go something like this:
    A man was walking along the beach when he saw a girl taking a picture of a starfish with her iPhone.
    Approaching the girl, he asked, “What are you doing?”
    “Uploading pictures of these stranded starfish to my Facebook page and asking friends to Tweet the call to action,” she said. “The surf is up and the tide is going out. If I can get enough friends out here, we can get all these starfish back in the water before sunset.”
    “Little girl,” the man asked, “what does tweet mean?”
    The girl rolled her eyes. She bent down, picked up a starfish and threw it back into the surf. Then she gave the man a wry, twinkly-eyed smile and said, “If you want to help out, this is how you do it.”
    Within hours, thousands of children stormed the beach and every starfish was rescued.
    (from Fast Living by Scott C Todd)

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