Find your starfish

Sunday 1st May 2022 9:00 am
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Jody Merelle column
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You have probably heard at least one version of the famous story about the starfish.

A man was walking towards a beach when he saw a young boy bending down, picking something up and throwing it into the sea.

Curious, the man went closer and realised that the entire beach was covered for miles and miles with stranded starfish.

‘What are you doing?’ the man asked the boy.

‘The sun is up and the tide is going out. If the starfish remain here they will die,’ the boy replied.

Looking round at the thousands and thousands of starfish the man looked at the boy and said ‘Young boy, there are thousands of them here. You cannot possibly make a difference.’

The boy listened politely and then bent down to pick up the next starfish which he threw back into the sea. ‘I made a difference to that one,’ he replied.

As we watch the relentless bad news coming out of Ukraine and other parts of the world at the moment, it can be easy to feel as though making any difference to anything is nigh on impossible.

We can often feel very small indeed in comparison to the huge challenges in the world. Some of the adjectives I have heard people use to describe themselves recently include overwhelmed, inadequate and powerless.

Perhaps one way forward at times like these is a shift in focus. Trying to solve ‘the whole picture,’ be that world politics, the rising cost of living, climate change or something closer to home is likely to result in disappointment.

Even thinking about doing so might well result in feelings of helplessness and frustration.

However, within that enormous beach of a million starfish are lots of individual starfish, each hoping that someone somewhere will be there for them. No matter who you are, or what you do, you are likely come across several starfish every day.

In last week’s paper was the story of two 10-year-old girls, Poppy and Isobel from Teignmouth, who had decided on their own to walk 17 miles from Teignmouth to Exeter to raise money for Ukraine.

Not only have those two girls now raised over £1,000, but they also told their story at church on Sunday which inspired the whole congregation who were there to hear them speak.

Those two little girls were never going to be stopped by feeling that the problems were too big for them to make a difference.

They didn’t even stop to ask ‘Can we do anything?’ Instead, their question was ‘What can we do?’ And once they asked that question they realised that they were able to walk and to get sponsorship – so that’s what they did.

So if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed or inadequate this week try just a minor shift in focus. Follow the girls’ example and ask yourself what you can do.

It may feel like a small gesture, but to someone else it is likely to be hugely significant. None of us can clear the whole beach on our own.

But each of us can save a starfish. And if we all save one, then together we will eventually start seeing a real difference on the beach.

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