When I try to teach something to my own children I frequently have an overwhelming desire to get up, say, “you know what, never mind, you are not as smart as I always thought you were,” and walk away. Fortunately, I haven't done that. Yet. This is one of the main reasons I don’t home school. The temptations would be too great. I know my limitations.
When I was maybe 15 or 16 I heard the starfish story and it resonated with me immediately (even if I was too self involved to do anything about it.) Then, when I graduated from nursing school, my good friend, Lecia, used the story in her valedictorian speech.
Wikipedia tells me the story is an adaptation from an essay written by a guy named Loren Eiseley called, The Star Thrower. But, I heard one of the adapted versions in my youth and that is what stuck in my head. If you haven’t heard it, here is the version Wikipedia has:
An old man had a habit of early morning walks on the beach. One day, after a storm, he saw a human figure in the distance moving like a dancer. As he came closer he saw that it was a young woman and she was not dancing but was reaching down to the sand, picking up a starfish and very gently throwing them into the ocean.
"Young lady," he asked, "Why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?"
"The sun is up, and the tide is going out, and if I do not throw them in they will die."
"But young lady, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it? You cannot possibly make a difference."
The young woman listened politely, paused and then bent down, picked up another starfish and threw it into the sea, past the breaking waves,
saying, "It made a difference for that one."
This story is incredibly appropriate for nurses (and teachers, I'm sure) because helping a small amount of many is exactly what we do. And often we need to be reminded that even making a difference to only one is worth it because, after a while, it is easy to get very sick of starfish.
I'm not there yet, thankfully, and since I recently severely cut back my hours, I kind of miss the starfish. So when my son's teacher asked for reading helpers, I found myself volunteering. Sure those poor kids deserve better, but I tend to be able to summon more patience for other people's children than my own so I'm optimistic. The point is, I need to get out in the world and help somehow. It’s almost like a craving.
Lest this whole post reads as some concocted humble brag scenario, I recognize that one hour a week is hardly equivalent to a year long mission trip to Africa to provide health care to impoverished orphans. Honestly, as a (mostly) stay at home mom, if I didn’t volunteer somehow at my kids’ school, I’d be kind of a jerk.
The point I’m trying to make here is that I’m not being selfless by volunteering. Quite the contrary, I’m doing it for me. Helping people feels good and I think it feels even better when you know you are not doing it for money; when it is a choice rather than something you have to do to put food on the table.
Come to think of it, I’m wondering if Mother Teresa should really get any credit for all of her work since I’m pretty sure she just did it because it was personally rewarding. Saint, shmaint, the woman was just really into starfish.