When I was a kid, I wanted to be an oceanographer when I grew up. I watched a lot of nature specials on PBS and fell in love with the underwater ecosystem. It was magical to me. I dreamed of one day going diving and swimming in the turquoise water with colorful fish and sea creatures everywhere. This was before 24 / 7 streaming television and the internet, so I saved up my money to buy an Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Seashore Creatures. I could open up that book and have the ocean right there in front of me anytime I wanted. There were pages and pages of beautiful sea anemones, crabs, mollusks and my absolute favorite invertebrate, the starfish.
On our family vacations, I remember visiting the ocean at low tide. This was the most exciting time because the tide would go out leaving all kinds of colorful creatures visible on the shore. Unfortunately for the poor starfish, they don't live long out of water at low tide. If they are lucky, someone will find them before it is too late and rescue them by picking them up and putting them back in the surf. If not, they will die on the sand.
This sad reality inspired an essay from Loren Eiseley in a book from 1969 entitled "The Unexpected Universe". Many people are familiar with the short poem about someone walking on a beach where all these poor starfish have been washed up. This person encounters an individual running along the beach, throwing the starfish back in the water. The observer, overwhelmed by the task, tells the thrower that they can't possibly save them all. What they are doing doesn't matter. The star thrower turns to the person on the beach after having picked up another starfish and says, "it matters to this one" and throws it back in the water.
The star thrower poem is a great example of how one small action can change a life. Without the star thrower, the starfish won't survive on the beach. Their outcome is bleak. The star thrower steps in to serve these living creatures, changing their outcome and creating possibility.
I became a coach because I want to change the world by serving others. As an optimist I believe that if we inspire possibility in others, we will light up the universe. That is why I love this story. There have been times when I have felt like my actions aren't enough to matter. Every time the tide goes out, there are more starfish washed on the beach. Day after day after day. It's a big job.
Now I much prefer the long version of this story which goes like this. A gentlemen is walking along the beach among all kinds of shell collectors who are grabbing up the sea creatures to keep and sell. Let's call him a seeker because he is looking for meaning in life and that is what drew him to this coastal town. The seeker spots the star thrower in the distance and is instantly curious. He is curious because everyone else is grabbing creatures on the shore to take away from the ocean, but this person is taking creatures on the shore and putting them back into the ocean. The seeker asks the star thrower what he is doing. The star thrower tells him they can be saved if you pick them up quickly enough and throw them back in the ocean. The seeker looks around and is overwhelmed at the task and sees the effort as futile. Death is just inevitable and he walks away feeling discouraged.
Here is my favorite part. After some time of reflection the seeker realizes he can't walk away from helpless creatures that need to be saved. He must go back and serve. That is exactly what he does. He makes his way back to the beach with the star thrower and calls out to him that he wants to be another thrower. Now there are two but soon there will be others, the seeker muses hopefully. As more and more people join them in service they can make a difference. It's the power of the ripple effect. There is hope. They can change the world. We can all change the world.
I want to share with you what starfish represent to me. My friend Nancy gave me this starfish along with the star thrower poem as a present the day we opened the Midland County Foster Closet at my church. Children are removed from their homes due to unsafe situations all hours of the day and night. Sometimes they have no clothes and nothing more than a garbage bag with a few items grabbed in haste to get them to safety. Our foster closet provides 24 / 7 availability for the families to come in to get clothes, school supplies, blankets, books and toys to provide comfort and support for their foster children. Nancy saw these children as starfish washed up on the beach and me as a companion star thrower. What she didn't know was that I had once been a starfish.
As an infant, I lived in a foster home for eight weeks before I was adopted. My biological mom, a dear, sweet person, had a tough life having been born several months premature. She dropped out of high school and struggled to support herself. When she got pregnant with me a couple years later, her mother, Margaret made sure that I was given up for adoption. Grandma Margaret wanted something better for me and that is when she picked me up off the wet sand and threw me back into the ocean changing my life forever. It was a painful, heartbreaking decision for both of them, but has a happy outcome. The good news is that I was reunited with my biological mom 11 years ago so she could be at peace with this decision.
I am beyond grateful for my amazing life. Always driven to achieve, I was high school valedictorian, voted most likely to succeed and earned my doctorate degree. I am a global leader at a Fortune 100 company and have a stellar family with a ton of love, support and happiness. I only share this list to show you what is possible when someone has the courage, the resolve to reach into the wet sand and pull out a starfish that can't breathe and throw them back into the ocean.
We don't always see the outcomes, but I hope this story inspires your faith that your actions make a difference when you live to serve others. When I was a kid, I dreamed of being an oceanographer when I grew up. At the time I didn't realize that I was a starfish who was born to one day grow up and become a star thrower.
I hope that soon there will be others. Will you be another star thrower?