Starfish in Moonlight
By David Hartley Mark
A Man walked along a beach. The moon was full.
He was neither young nor old, rich nor poor. But he was not happy. He had been out in the world, and had seen the evil in people. He had gone to war, and tried to free a country, only to see new villains arise to take the place of the old villains he had overthrown. At the end, he fought only to protect his comrades on his right and his left, in front of him and behind, shooting anyone he thought was a threat, until the officers higher-up told him it was time to go home.
He had no wounds on his body, but he was broken in spirit and heart. He did love to walk along the beach; the waves and the wind and water eased his mind. And the moon was the most beautiful thing of all: its pale loveliness called forth his soul, and invited him to a world of spirit, where life and love and death and victory and loss all meant the same, which was nothing.
It was only him and the Moon.
But this night was different.
It was low tide, and the beach was littered with the bodies of starfish. They had ridden the waves merrily, as they were accustomed, but now, with the water receded and gone, they were all left panting on the sand. They could not move; though they had five arms, they were stuck in the sand.
They were going to die.
As he walked along, the man felt the nightwind in his hair, and thought, “Well, what of it? This is the way of things. This is nature. Starfish must die. My friends died, in the battles we fought. And my friends were far more valuable than a few dozen starfish.”
The man walked, and the starfish lay, in heaps.
The moon looked down.
The man cleared a crest in the sand, there where the ocean did not reach, and he came upon a little girl. She was playing—but not really. She was busying herself, running back and forth, gathering as many starfish as she could, and flinging them hard-and-high into the waves, hoping to save them.
Hundreds of starfish, it seemed. And just one little girl.
The man stopped, and put his hands in his pockets. He watched the little girl. She could not have been more than nine years old: running back-and-forth, back-and-forth, scooping up starfish by the armload, soaking herself wet, in the night air.
After a few minutes passed, the little girl stopped, exhausted. She looked around, at the enormous heaps of starfish. She noticed the man. And smiled.
“Can you help me?” she asked, “I’m trying to save these starfish. I’m trying to get them home. Home, in the water. Home, so they won’t die.”
The man kept his hands in his pockets. He was silent.
The little girl looked at the man, and the man looked back. But he did not move.
Finally, exasperated, the little girl said, “Oh!” as only little children can who see the pigheaded stubbornness of adults, and went back to scooping up the starfish, and running back-and-forth, back-and-forth, flinging them into the water.
It was then that the man—veteran of bloody battles, a person who had seen what was right and wrong and good and true about the world, a man who knew the world in all of its evil—spoke:
“You know,” he said, “There are simply too many starfish. It won’t make a difference, what you’re doing.”
While he spoke, the girl looked at him, as if she were seeing him for the first time. One starfish in each hand, she walked up to him, slowly, prepared to listen, prepared to learn from this man, this person who had been out in the world, and was ready to teach her the Lessons of Life.
“It will make no difference to the starfish—“ said the man, continuing.
The little girl turned, abruptly, and flung the starfish into the water with all of her might. And she smiled at the man, her tiredness forgotten.
“It made a difference to this one,” she said.
The moon looked down.