Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Starfish Story

adapted from The Star Thrower
by Loren Eiseley (1907 - 1977)

"Once upon a time, there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work.

One day, as he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who would dance to the day, and so, he walked faster to catch up.

As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean.

He came closer still and called out "Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?"

The young man paused, looked up, and replied "Throwing starfish into the ocean."

"I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?" asked the somewhat startled wise man.

To this, the young man replied, "The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don't throw them in, they'll die."

Upon hearing this, the wise man commented, "But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can't possibly make a difference!"

At this, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he said, "It made a difference for that one."

One of the things I have always proudly pointed out while driving tourist around Dar, is the fact that the beggars in Tanzania usually do not have arms or can’t walk making it physically impossible for them to generate an income. A comparison between all the beggars on the South African streets and the physically disabled usually ensues. One glaring difference between Tanzania and South Africa is that we actually have a winter, and quite a cold one at that. So where in Tanzania the beggars can find a nice warm spot on the beach in South Africa they have to face minus degrees.

It is scary how blind we have become to other peoples suffering. Do we not turn a blind eye when someone limps to our car or act like we don’t see them through our sunglasses? I sometimes think that my heart is too soft and it hurts to much to think about it.

I am sure everyone driving the same road to work everyday has a similar story. About a month ago, after being jozi for like two weeks, we had a black frost. I have never heard of it before but it left us with minus tempartures and iced windscreens.

One afternoon after work at about 6 I was sitting in my car with heater on and thinking how I couldn’t feel my toes and that my hands where freezing on the steering wheel.
Stopping at the red light on Rivonia I saw HIM, a smallish young black man…with no shoes and desperately fearful eyes. He was hunched against the cold and was pleading from car to car for some kind of food. Ofcourse the usual reaction kicked in and I turned a blind eye. Driving away I saw him in my rearview mirror, dejected and staring another minus temperature night in the face…with no shoes.

Lying in bed that night (still almost frozen) I couldn’t help but think of that poor man in this cold with no shoes. This leads to all kind of thoughts of where did it all go wrong for him, maybe it was a life of crime or maybe a mother dead of AIDS.

I know a lot of people have the attitude of if I give money to one I have to give money to them all, but even a smile, as one person remarked the other day, can make someone feel human and worthy again.

Back to the story of the starfish, I collected some warm clothes and socks and food for this man. Because even if its small, to him it will make a huge difference.


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