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Home / Articles / Columnists / On the Bright Side /  Life`s a Beach
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Thursday, May 3,2012

Life`s a Beach

By Jonna Shutowick. M.S. Ed.  
My inspiration this month comes from the Starfish Story. Before I begin, let me recount a version of the story here for you, just in case you haven’t heard it before: 

A young girl was walking along a beach upon which thousands of starfish had been washed up during a terrible storm. When she came to each starfish, she would pick it up, and throw it back into the ocean. People watched her with amusement.

She had been doing this for some time when a man approached her and said, “Little girl, why are you doing this? Look at this beach! You can’t save all these starfish. You can’t begin to make a difference!” The girl seemed crushed, suddenly deflated. But after a few moments, she bent down, picked up another starfish, and hurled it as far as she could into the ocean. Then she looked up at the man and replied, “Well, I made a difference to that one!” - Adapted from the Star Thrower by Loren C. Eiseley After my first year as an elementary school guidance counselor, the principal gave me a plaque for my office with this story inscribed.

He told me that the story reminded him of the work I did on a daily basis. I was touched, but also grateful for the new perspective it gave me about the people who came to me for help. It was especially helpful on days when there was that one “starfish” too many and my “throwing arm” was tired for the day. The Starfish story brought me back to meet each individual who walked (or crawled, or was carried into) my office as the only person that mattered at that moment. I may have been tired, but the person with me was in crisis. And crisis is a relative experience. From a broken crayon or not being invited to a birthday party, to more serious issues, such as divorce or the loss of a family member, each little starfish was stranded on the beach at that moment and needed a helping hand. I never really thought much about the impact I was making, I just listened and did the best I could. I was the girl on the beach and they were the starfish.

When I moved up to teach high school, I hung the plaque in my classroom. It is no longer an office where students know they can come to share their burdens, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have them. I still try to approach every encounter with the understanding that this moment could be this person’s “stranded on the beach” moment. I may never know if what I say or do is making an impact or simply going in one ear and out the other (teenagers are not exactly worried about my self-esteem while looking bored or amused with my antics), but it doesn’t matter. What matters is that when it does matter, I was there. Whether with a smile, or a note of encouragement, or a high five, at any given moment I may be throwing a life line to someone and not even realize it.

On any given day each one of us may walk right by a starfish who needs a toss and we don’t even even know it. Whether it is the person next to you in line, or waiting on you at a restaurant or a stranger asking for money on a street corner...some small action on our part might make a huge difference in that person’s life. Or it may not. But what if, for just one, a word of kindness or a smile or a helping hand makes all the difference in the world. Wouldn’t it be worth it?


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