The Starfish Story

By Morgan DeLuce

Story Adapted from The Star Thrower by Loren C. Eiseley


There was an old man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach every morning before he began his work. Early one morning, he was walking along the shore after a big storm had passed and found the beach littered with starfish as far as the eye could see, stretching in both directions.

Off in the distance, the old man noticed a small boy approaching.  As the boy walked, he paused every so often to bend  down, pick up an object, and throw it into the sea.  As the boy grew closer, the man called out, “Good morning!  May I ask what it is that you are doing?”

The young boy paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up onto the beach and they can’t return to the sea by themselves,” the youth replied.

The old man was stumped, “But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t be able to make a difference.”
The boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned, smiled, and said, “It made a difference to that one.”


beach post pic

This story resonates so strongly with those of us committed to social change. I used to find humanitarian work disheartening because there are countless complex challenges in our world that cause poverty, disease, and so many other hardships. With so many problems and so much bureaucracy, how could the work of one person or even one small organization make a difference?

Remembering the value of one life is what gets me through those times of doubt. If just one person’s life is improved by the work I am doing, then there is no saying the effort is wasted. Service comes from a place of commitment and love. We do not serve others expecting anything in return. We serve others because we are passionate about life and curious about how good life can be, even if we do not see the change until many years down the line.



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