The Starfish Story - Cat Rescuers' Version
(Traditional. There are innumerable versions of L Eiseley's "The Star Thrower"on the web set on beaches all over the world. This cat lovers' version was found in a cat shelter newsletter 1993 and on Usenet and is about "making a bigger difference".)

A traveller was walking along a beach when he saw a woman scooping up starfish off the sand and tossing them into the waves. Curious, he asked her what she was doing. The woman replied "When the tide goes out it leaves these starfish stranded on the beach. They will dry up and die before the tide comes back in, so I am throwing them back into the sea where they can live."

The traveller then asked her "But this beach is miles long and there are hundreds of stranded starfish, many will die before you reach them - do you really think throwing back a few starfish is really going to make a difference?"

The woman picked up a starfish and looked at it, then she threw it into the waves. "It makes a difference to this one" she said.

Considering this, the traveller continued his walk along the beach. After a while he arrived at a place where a river ran into the sea and he turned back inland, walking alongside the river. He was still pondering the words of the starfish woman when he noticed a group of people wading about in the river trying to catch floating objects and throwing them safely onto the river bank. When he got closer he saw that the people were rescuing kitties which were struggling in the water and floating downstream towards the sea. Though many of the kitties were thrown to safety, many others were washed out to sea, never to be seen again.

The traveller thought about this and thought about what starfish-woman had told him. He knew that it made a difference to every kitty saved. He also knew that he could not stop the sea from washing up starfish, but he knew that there was a way to make a bigger difference to all the kitties being washed away in the river so he called out to the people who were fishing out kitties. "Why don't some of you go upstream and stop people tossing them into the river in the first place?".

The traveller had learned an important lesson from starfish woman. When you face impossible odds you do the best you can and helping just one or two creatures. But he also had the wisdom to know that sometimes you can make a bigger difference. And this is the moral of the starfish woman story: sometimes you have to do whatever you can, however little it seems; but sometimes you have the chance to make a bigger difference. You just need a little wisdom to see when you have a chance to make that bigger difference.

And this is what rescuing animals is about. Sometimes you have to do the best you can and treasure every life saved. But sometimes you get a chance to make a bigger difference and instead of making a difference to just one, you can make a difference to many.


(I learnt this in Comparative Religion class at Secondary School sometime between 1978 and 1981. More recently I heard it told as "an ancient Eastern proverb" about an teacher and student on the beach rescuing not ants, but starfish. Starfish evidently elicit more sympathy than ants and beetles in the West!)

There are some Buddhists to whom life is so sacred that they brush insects out of their path when they walk so that they don't accidentally tread on them. One day, an elder monk and his young novice were walking from the temple into the village. The elder monk brushed the path in front of him before each step.

"Master," asked the novice, "Why do you brush the path before you tread?"

"My son, that is to brush aside the insects which might otherwise by crushed by my feet," the older monk replied.

The novice thought about this for a while.

"Master," he said after a long think, "However hard you brush, you can't brush aside all of the insects. So why bother at all?"

The older monk squatted in the dust and pointed to a beetle scurrying out of the way, and to some ants he had earlier brushed aside.

"But my son, what I do matters to this one and to this one," he said.

The young monk finally understood and they continued the walk in companionable silence, the lesson having been learned.


Starfish Poem
(Anon adaptation of L Eiseley's "The Star Thrower", from Usenet)

One summer day I went out walking along Ten Mile Beach
Where hundreds of starfish were stranded beyond tide's reach
As I strolled along the sands a kindly lady passed by me
Throwing stranded struggling starfish back into the briny sea.

I asked "Why do you do this when you can only save
Those few lucky starfish you throw back into the waves,
Why do you even bother, since most of them will die?
Does it really matter that much?" I asked and she replied:

"I cannot save all the starfish, many of them die, I know,
With so many more miles of sandy seashore still to go,
But for every single starfish saved from the killing sun
I think 'it matters, yes it matters. It matters to this one'"

Later that sunny day I went for a long stroll beside
A great rushing river, cold, turbulent and wide,
And there I saw some people wading frantically about
Trying to pull dozens of drowning kitties out.

"Why do you do that?" I asked them, "Why do you even try?
You can save one or two, but most are washed on by?
I know that it matters to each kitty that you save
That it doesn't get washed out into the ocean's killing waves!"

And then as I watched them trying, I saw another way
That all those other struggling kitties could certainly be saved:
"Why don't some of you people go further on upstream
And stop uncaring people from throwing the kitties in?"

I thought of Starfish lady and those starfish washed ashore
She was doing all she could, but other times you can do more,
Sometimes, you see, you have the wisdom to know just where and when
You can find a better way to make a greater difference.


Starfish Poem 2
(Anon adaptation of L Eiseley's "The Star Thrower", from Usenet)

As I walked along the seashore
This young boy greeted me.
He was tossing stranded starfish
Back to the deep blue sea.
I said "Tell me why you bother,
Why you waste your time this way.
There's a million stranded starfish
Does it matter, anyway?"

And he said, "It matters to this one.
It deserves a chance to grow.
It matters to this one.
I can't save them all I know.
But it matters to this one,
I'll return it to the sea.
It matters to this one,
And it matters to me."

I walked into the shelter,
The owner greeted me.
She was helping Misty learn to trust.
She was struggling I could see.
I said, "Tell me why you bother,
Why you waste your time this way.
Misty's only one of thousands,
Does it matter anyway?"

And she said, "It matters to this one.
She deserves a chance to grow.
It matters to this one.
I can't save them all I know.
But it matters to this one,
I'll help her be what she can be.
It matters to this one,
And it matters to me.


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