Walking on the beach with Molly yesterday morning, a thin woman, wearing what appeared to be a wrap around housecoat, was busily picking up shells. Conversationally, I asked, “Finding some good ones?” She turned and said, “I’m picking these up in memory of all those murdered…” At this point I thought, ‘Has there been another bombing that I missed?’ But then she continued,”…all those murdered by starfish.” I guess I looked at her dumbly, because she explained, “See how they have these little holes, that means the starfish sucked them out.” She smiled sweetly at me, and I returned the smile and headed back up the beach, thinking that she maybe had taken in a little too much salt water!
I decided to take some time off from the beach and spend the afternoon in the quaint town of Apalachicola, about 30 minutes away. I loved its old houses, moss draped trees, and fishing boats by the pier. I walked around and of course ended up in a book store. I was chit-chatting with the sales lady and a man was also in there looking around. As he was leaving, he told the salesperson that he wasn’t buying anything because he was traveling on his bike and didn’t want a book to get wet. I assumed he meant a motorcycle. I bought a book called “Why Writers Write”, and continued roaming around the stores. A little while later, I heard someone calling – “M’am” and turned and it was the man from the bookstore on a bicycle. He apparently had all his worldly goods in the basket on front. “I saw you in the bookstore and I wanted to let you know there is a very nice little library just up the road here,” and he pointed down the street. ” I knew you liked books.” I thanked him, not mentioning that I was not staying anywhere around there, and he smiled and went on his way. Book lovers find each other wherever we are!
That evening, Molly and I headed out to the beach for our sunset walk. I was worried about some friends going through difficult times. I kept my head down, looking at shells. Most of the shells arrive at this beach broken from their journey, but suddenly I saw a perfectly formed hermit crab shell, with no pieces broken off, even on the delicate pointy parts. I picked it up, excited at my find, turned it over and saw a pair of miniature pincers come out and quickly retreat back. The crab was still inside! I showed it to some kids nearby, then asked the dad, “I guess it will still live if I put it back in the water?” He assured me it would.
I thought about what a great addition the hermit crab shell would be to my garden. What would it matter if the little crab died?
I often feel helpless to do anything for others who are suffering from grief or anxiety or hopelessness. I sometimes feel helpless to even keep myself from doing dumb things. I see the kids at my school and so many of them face enormous obstacles of poverty, drugged out parents, and broken homes. Maybe one little smile or encouragement or prayer can change something. Maybe not.
But this as something good I could do. So as much as I would have liked to have had that shell, I threw the crab and his house back to the ocean.
Mother Teresa said, “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” Who knows what consequences our actions have, both good and bad?
All this week I have had people show kindness to the me, including the man on the bike, the family in the neighborhood who invited me for dinner, the couple at the restaurant who struck up a conversation then asked if we could pray together before our meal – and like the lady remembering those murdered by starfish, each has had an impact on me, a tiny ripple that will make a difference.