A boy was walking along the beach when he noticed several thousand starfish along the shore, beached and burning up in the sun, unable to reach the water. Horrified, the boy started to pick up the starfish, one at a time, and toss them into the water. A man walking along noticed the boy's Herculean effort to save the starfish and exclaimed, "Why are you trying to help them? Look around! There are millions of starfish. How can you possibly help them all?" The boy picked up a lone starfish and tossed him into the water. He then replied, "Well, at least I helped that one."
Last week, I had the opportunity to co-facilitate "The Way Home," a conference organized by Coalition for the Homeless in Houston, TX. The purpose of the conference was to hold space for conversation with over 150 community members, policy makers, and service providers for the purpose of addressing homelessness in Houston.
This was the story that Rick Gardner, a homeless man in Houston, told me when asked to address the helplessness that many feel when asked to help the homeless. The story illustrates an important lesson in reframing. When faced with an impossible task, do we retreat or do we try to help in some small way? Rick would tell us to help one starfish, one homeless person in some small way, whenever we can.
Rick's openness and candidness about the homeless experience gave me some much needed insight and inspired me to capture some of his words of wisdom in this blog. Rick spends his days on the street on a self-guided mission to help others who are homeless. He does this by asking each one, "What can I do to help?" The response he gets is usually, "Why do you want to help me?" To which, Rich replies, "Because I care."
Rick told me that for many homeless, food and clothes are not as difficult to come by as a safe place to sleep or camp and having community and relationships. Many homeless suffer more from low self-worth than hunger. They are isolated and feel hopeless. When you show someone that you care about them, it starts helping them care more about themselves. Whether it's walking someone to a rehabilitation clinic or just sitting down and having a talk, Rick is all about healing through connection. If it were up to Rick, the government would offer land where the homeless could safely camp and connect with others like them.
Rick and I have the same life purpose, to create space for connection. "There is more that connects us than not," he told me. I wrote this blog as a special dedication to my new friend who has inspired me to see things differently and look for ways that I can help even one starfish in need.
What is one way you will help a starfish in need?
Check out the book Graffiti: Scribbles from Both Sides of the Street, written with support from Rick by Alene Snodgrass.