Few have heard of Loren Eiseley, but many know the gist of his essay, “The Star Thrower.” It’s about a man walking along a beach, picking up stranded starfish and throwing them back into the water. There are thousands of beached starfish on the shore and an observer asks the man why he’s wasting his time. He can’t possibly make a difference.
The man tosses another starfish into the surf. “It made a difference to that one,” he says.
The first time I heard this story was at a Leadership Catawba training session sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce. The message stuck with me. I’ve since seen the story paraphrased by motivational speakers, on the Internet and in sermons, urging us to noble action.
I’m proud to say that my church, First Presbyterian in Newton, offers more than lip service to homeless people on cold winter nights. For several years the Missions Committee has opened the Fellowship Hall to anyone who needs a warm meal and shelter on nights when the temperature dips below 25 degrees. Volunteers stay with the guests, provide meals and fellowship. Each night requires eight volunteers, not counting the person who brings dinner.
Being a gourmet chef is not required, so I’ve taken a couple of meals myself. It takes team of people to run an emergency shelter, and, providing a warm place to sleep and a home-cooked meal are ways to show Christ’s love to local people in need. It does makes a difference to them.
Last winter, the Inn operated 26 nights involving some 50 volunteers, most of them church members, but several are not.
One night the church may host three overnight guests. The next night there may be six. This mission doesn’t involve multitudes, but like the proverbial starfish on the beach, the effort is a big deal to those being helped.
After delivering a meal recently, I thought of the starfish story and of its writer who published his essay. Loren Eiseley was a naturalist and an academic who first published his starfish story in his book, The Unexpected Universe, in 1964. His name was never a household word and his books were never best-sellers, but the core of his work pitches beyond celebrity. Fifty-two years later, his essay is still making a difference in our collective conscience.