Do What You Can

There are few things I love more than walking on a beach.  I prefer to walk right on the edge of the water, where I can listen to the waves roll in, search for sea shells, and keep an eye out for passing dolphins.  Sometimes I have to step out of the way of flocks of birds or other people, but usually I just stroll along in peaceful oblivion.  For me, there is no better way to reduce stress and calm my soul than to take a long walk on a beach.   Most of the time, that is.

img_2276Because the problem with beaches is that they are controlled by nature, and not designed specifically for my peace and enjoyment.  Which explains why on my recent Florida vacation, I headed eagerly to the beach for an afternoon walk only to be greeted by the sight of hundreds of shells that had been washed ashore by the previous night’s storms. And most of them were still alive (sea shells are actually the exterior skeleton of soft-bodied animals called mollusks), stranded on the hot beach several yards away from the ocean water they needed to continue living.

Most of other people at the beach were ignoring the plight of the beached mollusks but I felt compelled to try to help. (I’m embarrassed to admit that I often rescue worms stranded on the sidewalk after heavy rains, too.)  I began by picking up as many live shells as I could hold and then wading knee-deep into the ocean before gently placing them on the ocean floor.  Several trips later, I realized  that I had barely made a dent in the number of shells  in the pile nearest me, and that there were many more shells stranded all up and down the shore as far as I could see.  I felt both helpless and frustrated, but I still wasn’t ready to give up.

So I began to walk slowly down the beach, scanning the shells as I went and picking up only those that were moving.  (I figured the ones that were actively trying to get back in the water had the best chances of living.)  I’m sure I returned at least one hundred “fighting conch” shells to the ocean, and maybe more.  I had no idea if putting them back in the water actually saved them, and I know I walked right past several hundred more shells that were still stranded on the beach, with the mollusks in them slowly dying.

img_2267I really wished I had been able to save them all, but I also knew there was no way that I possibly could, even if I stayed on the beach till dark and someone lent me a wheelbarrow to tote all the shells.  But somewhere during my walk I stopped feeling frustrated with my inability to save them all, and actually began to feel just a smidgen of satisfaction that I was, perhaps, at least saving some of them.  That day, my walk on the beach wasn’t peaceful or relaxing, but it did have a purpose.

That day helped me to remember that even though I can’t fix everything, I can always fix something.  And that all I have to do is try.

53 thoughts on “Do What You Can

  1. I also rescue worms, and spiders found inside our house (note the comma after “worms” – the worms are outside, not in our house 🙂 ). I’m pretty sure I would have been trying to get the sea creatures back into the sea too. Your experience reminds me of the Starfish Story that my mother (who was also a spider-saver) read to me as a kid.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love that starfish story! And honestly, that was why I included the photo of the starfish at the end of this post. We used to include the story of the starfish in our volunteer orientation at the humane society where I volunteer. Because sadly, it is the same there: we can’t save them all, but we have to remember that for the ones we did save, our efforts meant everything.

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  2. Ann, this reflection is full of contentment after wrestling with your responsibility. Yes, fix what you can. It matters. I believe that you bravely sharing this story also matters. I will walk with you and save what I can and celebrate what I can contribute instead of detesting myself for not being able to fix it all. Thank you for taking the time to share.

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    • Thank you Ali! It has taken me along time to realize that helping make the world a better place is not an all or nothing deal. We just do the best we can, where we can, and have to be content in knowing that it counts. It’s not ideal, but is is, in it’s own way, affirming.

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  3. It’s especially disheartening when I read about beached whales. I always wonder why this happens…? Have we done something to create this or is this a natural occurrence? Funny, I love to hear the ocean too and live close by, but rarely go now that I live here. It’s just one of those things. The public beaches are too crowded for my taste and my Mom’s more private beach, while I could go, when I’m there, I am visiting her. BTW, I save worms too. 🙂

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    • I love how many friends I have who have said they save worms, too! It makes me feel a whole lot less odd…. And there is something about Marco Island that is not good for the fighting conch shells. I often see live ones stranded there, but I don’t see that at other beaches. (Although this time, it was on a much larger scale than ever before.) It’s just like the whales: I wonder what is going on? Could it be part of global warming?

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    • Nature really can be cruel, can’t it? But we do the best we can to rescue living things. I even liberate the spiders I find in my house sometimes. I don’t want them in my house, but that doesn’t always mean they have to die.

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    • I have! We used to use it at the end of our Pet Pal orientation! That’s why I included the photo of the starfish at the end. It is the same principle as the stranded fighting conch, and sadly, sometimes also for the shelter dogs. I truly believe we are called to do our best in this world, and then trust that our best is good enough. Otherwise, we just get so overwhelmed that we stop trying altogether. Thanks, TJ!!!

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    • That’s what my husband did! And at first, I was annoyed that he handled them so roughly. But then I realized that he also got them a lot further out into the ocean than I did, and maybe that meant his were saved whereas mine were just washed ashore once again. Just goes to show that we should never get too smug about our own methods, because they might not be the best ones!

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  4. Ann, you’re living the starfish story! -while there is no way to save all the starfish that have washed up along the miles and miles of shore, the boy defiantly responds to the futility expressed by an old man by saying “for THAT starfish, it makes all the difference in the world.”

    And this is a really great way for me to start off my morning WordPress reader session, as I’m beginning to feel like there are an endless array of posts to read, and a seemingly endless ocean of bloggers that I’d love to meet.

    I can’t read or engage with everyone that I’d like to, but I’d like to think that I’m making some small difference for those that I am able to connect with.

    I think today is gonna be a good day. Thanks again Ann for getting me pointing in the right direction!

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    • You are so welcome, Gabe! I love the starfish story, and I also believe in it. None of us have the ability to change the world, but all of us have the ability to make the world around us a better place. And I honestly believe that matters. You are a wonderfully encouraging person, and that means that you have made a positive difference in many people’s lives. And seriously, what could be more important than that? Thanks, Gabe!

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  5. Good on you, Ann, I think it’s a lovely thing to do, not just for the other beings — lowly forms though they may be — but as a way of further cultivating a caring attitude within oneself. I do believe that the manner in which we engage the world — our intent, and here your example being one of amity — ripples out in causal reactions. They may not do so in chronological sequence, but it does seem that friendly feelings end up finding their mark over time. 🙂

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    • I agree, Hariod! I think that cultivating a caring attitude is important, because it does effect how we behave towards others and we have more impact that we realize. I used to get so discouraged because I couldn’t “fix” all the problems I encountered. Now I’m starting to realize that the key really is just to try, and do our best. Even small gestures make a difference.

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  6. You made a very good point at the end of your well written post. It can be applied to the highest levels of human activities. Too many people succumb to the pessimistic thought of not being able to do anything about the great problems in the world we live in. The beach in your story is a good metaphor for our planet earth. Solving problems starts at home, with our next door neighbors, in the community we live in. Thank you for your inspirational post, Ann!

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    • Thank you for your kind words, Peter! I think volunteering at the humane society has taught me this more than anything, because we get so many dogs in and I can’t help, or even save, them all. So I’ve learned to focus on the dogs that I help and save, and realize that matters too. And of course, the lesson from that applies to people as well. Because I agree, “solving problems starts at home….”

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  7. I do the same thing with worms, beetles trapped on their back, spiders in the bath and the like and I’m sure you and I are not the only ones. My guess is there must be many, many people who feel the same way. I think a desire to help the distressed is one of the better impulses in the mixed bag that is human nature.

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  8. I pick up trash on the beach, too, and it’s the same kind of thing. Often I can’t get it all. But it’ll be a slightly better place for me having been there, and sometimes, that’s the best we can do. And I think it matters that we try. 🙂

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  9. A worm on the sidewalk? You really are a gentle soul, aren’t you, Ann..:)
    Good for you that you took the time to do what you could. In the long run, I’m sure it made your trip a little more enjoyable..:)
    Hope you had a great time.

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  10. Reminds me of the story of the boy who was throwing starfish back into the ocean and a man told him not to worry about it because what he was doing didn’t matter and he couldn’t save them all. The little boy then held up a starfish and as he was throwing it in said, “Well it mattered to that one. And that one,” as he continued down the beach.

    Thanks for sharing.

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