by Dave Markwell

Last night, I had an opportunity to tell a story. It is a story that has been often told and has different versions, but resonates with me every time I hear it. Here is a version of the story copied from somewhere:

A young girl was walking along a beach upon which thousands of starfish had been washed up during a terrible storm. When she came to each starfish, she would pick it up, and throw it back into the ocean. People watched her with amusement.

She had been doing this for some time when a man approached her and said, “Little girl, why are you doing this? Look at this beach! You can’t save all these starfish. You can’t begin to make a difference!”
The girl seemed crushed, suddenly deflated. But after a few moments, she bent down, picked up another starfish, and hurled it as far as she could into the ocean. Then she looked up at the man and replied,
“Well, I made a difference to that one!”

The context of my conversation involved a chance meeting with a young girl and her Dad as they ate dinner at The Tin Room in Burien, WA. Andy, the Dad, earlier that day, was inducted as a new member into my Rotary Club. During their meal, they were having a discussion about the value of service and he was trying to impart a lesson on how important it is to help other people. She, being a young girl, maybe 10 or 11 years old, was somewhat lost and slightly defeated by the volume of people needing help and if it really mattered, since so many people would still need help. I told her this story, except with sand dollars instead of starfish. As she listened, looking as bored as only a young girl can, I saw the beautiful little light bulb begin to shine in her mind as she began to understand on some level that she could make a difference.

This brief and spontaneous moment demonstrated to me that, once again, it matters. What we do, what we say, the choices we make, matter. No kind gesture is too small to not matter. They all matter. This lesson is an important one to learn and remember as a small girl eating dinner with her Dad, but also for everyone else doing anything else. It is a universal lesson with no protocol or parameters. Doing something is the only requirement. Our world is better for it and we are better for it.

The Rotary motto is “service above self”. This is a little misleading. It implies a certain martyrdom or sacrifice. What is lost is that serving others, serves us. Serving makes us feel good and feeling good is the basis of and reason for any good things that we achieve or enjoy in life. We are richer, smarter, wiser and better. This is possible all day, every day. No gesture is too small not to matter and since they matter, we matter. It is nice to remind ourselves of this from time to time. Facing the daily punches to our gut this world delivers, it is very easy to feel unimportant. Creating a smile on a stranger or a light bulb moment in a thoughtful little ten year old girl can remind us that we matter and are important. All of us matter and are important and can change the world… one sand dollar at a time.

[EDITOR’S NOTE:”Feel Good Friday” is a regular column written by Des Moines resident Dave Markwell, who extols to all neighbors: “Enjoy where we live. Put your feet on the pavement and truly feel how great it is to live here!” Also, you can “friend” Dave on Facebook here. Or work out with him at his new exercise company Waterland CrossFit!]

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