The Star Thrower

Some years ago, I was reading a book by the great naturalist Loren Eiseley and came upon a chapter titled “The Star Thrower”. In it Eiseley shared an encounter he’d had on the coast of Costabel. In the distance, framed by a rainbow, he saw a man squatting staring at the sand. As Eiseley drew closer, he saw that the man staring at a star fish in the sand. Eiseley noted that the star fish was still alive. “Yes” the man said. “Then with a quick yet gentle movement he picked up the star and spun it over my head and far out into the sea…’It may live’ he said ‘if the offshore pull is strong enough'”

The image haunted me. It still does.

Once I set out for a morning run along a beach above Dublin. As I ran, I noticed the beach was awash with starfish. And so I bent, picked one up and joyfully tossed it as far as I could throw. Then I threw another. And another. And another. Then I realized the beach was filled with star fish. I couldn’t throw them all back.

Later that day, I walked along the same beach and saw many dead starfish as well as people collecting them. I thought myself a failure as a Star Thrower. But as I watched the ocean, as always I was mesmerized by its rhythm. I realized that the flow of life and death was timeless. That starfish would wash up onto countless beaches to die. That one man could not undo the ocean’s divine rhtyhm of life and death.

And yet the actions of the Star Thrower still mattered to me. Was I drawn to some type of naive idealism? If so, that had been challenged on the beach above Dublin. No matter how much time I spent throwing starfish back into the ocean, most would continue to wash up on beaches to die.

Was the Star Thrower exhibiting some form of protest that I was drawn to? Perhaps not, because he went about his task noticed only by Eiseley. Yet there might have been a slight pushing back against the laws of nature. Perhaps he thought “I know I cannot save all the star fish but perhaps it matters that I can save a few.”

As a therapist, I had long ago faced the frustration that there was far more pain and problems in the world than I could manage to address. As a finite being, I had and have limits as to how much I could and can do to help. It was tempting to give up and follow another path. Anyone involved in dealing with human suffering knows or should know that what they do matters only to those they try to help and sometimes not even then.

Yet I believe it does matter, just as the Star Thrower’s efforts mattered.

What Eiseley also noticed about the Star Thrower’s efforts was that it was an expression of love, not individual love but a love of life. The Star Thrower’s efforts affirmed life and took a stand for life. And in affirming life, he affirmed compassion for ALL of life. Picking up a star fish and throwing it back into the sea. Perhaps it matters after all.

So there it is. No, I could not save all the starfish on that Irish beach. But the ones I threw I did so with love and compassion. Perhaps that is what makes us human.

About richp45198

I am a clinical psychologist and have an abiding interest in matters spiritual.
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5 Responses to The Star Thrower

  1. Billie says:

    Ohhh, Rich… Yes. Made me cry and made me happy and reminded me to always thank you for your words.

  2. Chas says:

    Very insightful! Thank you,

  3. Susan says:

    So, I married a man who thinks with an Eastern mindset. He often reminds me that I am way too focused on OUTCOMES (Western thinking). Sometimes we cannot control outcomes. I have been the starfish washed up on the beach. What mattered was that there was someone who held my arm, someone who tried to help. That person said, “I am not sure if you will ultimately live, but one thing IS sure. I will be with you because I have touched you”.

  4. Susan says:

    I married a man with an Eastern mindset. He reminds me that I am too focused on OUTCOMES. Sometimes we cannot control outcomes. When we are the starfish on the beach, what matters is that someone tries, someone touches our life by connecting with us.

  5. Sherry Susan Lowell Lewis says:

    This week, my grandchildren visited. The eldest, 19, offered to trim back the Oleander which was 12 feet tall and I happily agreed. He began sawing away. As he got to the middle, my granddaughter, 11, screamed for him to stop. There was a little dove’s nest, with 2 precious eggs. We stopped. The next day, without the protection of the outer branches, the nest had emptied out, buffeted by our high winds.
    Today, I mentioned this to my Uber driver, describing my angst and woe at having essentially killed two doves. He calmly reminded me that it’s early spring. They will build more and hatch many more this year.
    I hope he’s right. My heart aches at the idea that I killed two lovely cooing doves.
    That’s how it goes, sometimes. God forgive us.

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