Saturday, April 26, 2008

With a Little Help from My Friends

Flip is a generous person. He regularly empties his pockets into the hands of street beggars when most people would write them off as lazy. He gives from a full heart and can't do enough for strangers.

There are those who take refuge in the old saw about giving a man a fish to feed him for a day as opposed to teaching him to fish so he can eat forever. Long-term solutions vs short-term fixes, which are likened to bandaids on bleeding sores.

I think that both arguments have merit. Certainly it is important to give a person skills to sustain him and his family, but sometimes individual momentary help is also necessary. After all, life is made up of moments strung together.

The act of giving helps not only the recipient, but the giver as well. It creates a bond, however briefly, between those who have enough to give and those whose own minimal needs are not being met. It reinforces that we are all human no matter what our circumstances.

There is a story about a man walking along a beach who sees thousands of starfish stranded by an unusually low tide. He knows they will die if left on the dry sand but he can't help them all, so he continues walking.

He comes upon a child who is frantically throwing as many starfish as she can to deeper water.

"What are you doing?" he asks.

"I'm saving the starfish."

"But there are thousands of them. You can't possibly save every one, so what does it matter?"

She holds one up and tosses it back into the water.

"It matters to this one," she says.


thailandchani said...

I agree with all you've said. As one who tends to be more focused on long range solutions, I am always grateful for those who get involved more individually.

This isn't to say that I won't help out an individual if I see that it's needed... but it's not my overall strategy which means basically that I will tell people about resources, etc. I will get involved at that level.. and try to do what I can to make sure a person gets to the right places to get a more permanent solution - whether it is a job or help with a disability claim - whether it's getting to a food bank.. something like that.

We are all needed.

seventh sister said...

Sometime I am more like Flip and at other times, more like the man on the beach. I wonder why I am not more consistant...I think a lot of us are like that. I used to work for Social Security Disability and it was so hard to approve a claim and get the approval through the mass bureaucracy. If I denied one, however, it was hardly ever questioned. I hought everyone needed the money so I was not happy in that job and did not do it for very long.

RED MOJO said...

I think it is important to help when you can, every little bit helps!

blooming desertpea said...

Great post accompanied by a matching title - especially since I like the Beatles. It's not easy to find the right way to help.

Say It said...

What a great story. I love it. I'll retell it too!

I can't watch anything suffer in any way shape or form, and am usually quick to offer the shirt off my back if I think it'll help. I'm better at the bandaids but have been around for a few long term solutions.

furiousBall said...

it's hard to watch someone suffer for sure, that's one of the things i'll struggle with as a parent, allowing my children to fail so the lesson isn't lost

On a limb with Claudia said...

This is a lovely piece. And so well thought out. It's amazing how hopeless and helpless we feel in the big picture. In the smallest moment, a smile can change a life. I've learned that over and over again this year.

comfortandjoy said...

"After all, life is made up of moments strung together." I want to keep that forever. Thanks.

Nick said...

As Mojo says, every little bit helps - a cliche but so true. Of course there are limits to what we can do to help people but the worst possible thing is to despair and do nothing because we think the problem is too big. As someone said ‘All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing’. The starfish story is brilliant.

meno said...

Those with a kind heart will always try to help, even if it "makes no difference" to the big picture.

Something for me to remember more often.

Sienna said...

It's really interesting Hearts, when you talk about it, it makes me just think of stuff and why and how....

For me it is the easiest thing in the world to love and have empathy and share...(always has been, even as first childhood memories) I think maybe I feel I have so much abundance in my life...why are we the people that we are, how did it all come to this, what is the masterplanning behind this?

Maithri over at Soaring Impulse says love the world into change, and I feel that, and understand it 99% of the time....but occasionally somedays you want to throttle the goddamn awful stuff that happens, and it hits so hard ...

"Not" to pick up the starfish and place them back in the water would be very painful for me to will myself to do-

It's strange, my partner is a wonderful man...but he is a very .."it's either black or white" guy...he would see the starfish and say, well, can we eat them?

Life is moments strung together, I just love that.

Jocelyn said...

How do you do this to me every time?

You just do.

Tell Flip he's lucky I love you and my own husband so much, or I'd be on my way out there, a glint in my eye.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Yes, we are all needed -- "from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs."


I am inconsistent, too. Sometimes I am a model of generosity and other times, I look at all the able-bodied people with outstretched hands and think to myself, "Get a job" or "Just stop drinking."


I'm sure it does, even if the results aren't always visible. The energy of sharing enhances all.

Desert Pea,

I often use song titles for my posts, and the Beatles provide a wealth of them.

Say it,

Me, too. I believe we are here to help alleviate the suffering of others.


It's one of the hardest lessons of parenthood. Luckily, yours will always have you to catch them when they fall.


A smile can even SAVE a life sometimes.

We should all do more of that.


You're very kind. Welcome to these shores and please come back often.


Edmund Burke said that long before the Holocaust or Darfur or Rwanda or... or... And he was right.


It's true. Even the kindest heart accomplishes nothing without action.


My late ex-husband used to stroll along pristine beaches with me while I looked for shells and sea glass and he looked for creatures we could eat. (He never caught any.)


If it was still winter, I'd be suspicious since you live in Northern Minnesota, and I know exactly what that's like.

Bob said...

I usually give something. others say that i'm just buying their next bottle or next dime bag - but, you know, even if that is right most of the time, this might be the time it buys a sandwich. giving isn't about conditions, it's about sharing.

the walking man said...

*shrug* a house is laid down one brick at a time, rarely even as a collective do we have the resource to go in and "develop" a large tract.

Drop the mortar, lay the brick.
Once a brick is laid, forget it and move to the next. This is Flipism, and I like that way. Other's; any help in whatever form is help as well.



Christy said...


Anonymous said...

Lovely. I was rescuing a starfish on the beach once and as I went to throw it back, someone stopped me and said, "You know, if you keep it it will dry out and you can use it as a decoration." Finding a dried starfish is great and I would keep one, but I can't imagine deliberately killing one.

jameil1922 said...

awww. so sweet. i hope he bent down and started helping her.

Josie said...

Hearts, what a great story. And you know, I believe that help grows exponentially. If we help one person, they may have a chance help one person, and so on and so on and so on.... Sometimes the person who is down on his luck needs only to be touched by the hand of kindness.

By the way, Flip sounds like a keeper. :-)

heartinsanfrancisco said...


As usual, you've said volumes in a few words.

Giving should always be unconditional or it isn't really giving at all, but a business transaction.


Flipism. Oh, my. I am torn between dying to tell him, and fearing the repercussions from his ego.




They are lovely, but they don't deserve to die for it. I couldn't agree more.


I hope so, too. Four hands would have saved at least twice as many starfish as two small ones.


Flip is definitely a keeper.

If a butterfly flapping its wings in North America can cause a blizzard in SE Asia, (or something,) we all CAN make a difference.

The CEO said...

What a beautiful post, about a beautiful man on an important topic. Thank you.

Kristin said...

I think there are moments when we ignore the humanity of the homeless and the needy... we look through them or past them... but, when we take that second to ease their suffering... to see them as people, we can be a moment of light in an often dark world.

TheWeyrd1 said...

I wish we, as a society, did a better job triaging the needs of our fellow human beings instead of having either "feed them today" or "teach them to feed themselves for life" type of black and white thinking.

Fate's Granddaughter said...

I love that story.

I used to have lunch with a man called Frankie every week when I lived in Washington. He was homeless and slept near the bar I worked in. After a while Frankie got a job as a busboy and refused to let me pay for lunch. He said the thing he liked best was that I treated him like a person. Since then I may not always give people on the street money, but I do always look them in the eye and say hello.

Anonymous said...

I like that all the answers are the right answers, or rather, there are no wrong answers.

And I love the lessons we learn from children.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Thank YOU.


"There but for the grace of God go I" keeps me honest.


It IS pretty black and white when some have too much while others don't have enough, but I'm not sure there's a cure that wouldn't penalize those who work harder.

Still, if we as a society had more compassion, perhaps we could find fair solutions that work, one starfish at a time.

Thank you for your visit.


You made a huge difference in Frankie's life. When we stop treating people as lesser beings we feed their will to improve their lives, and we also help our own development.


Yes, the lessons from children! I am still learning from mine, and they are all adults now.

WNG said...

Hearts - sometimes your timing is just spooky. My friend Big Man and I were just talking about this very thing over at his blog. I'd link ot it here, but I stink at that, so please look for him in my blogroll and check him out.

Big Man said...

WNG referred me to this post, and it is freaky that you would post on this at the same time that I was considering it.

Anyway, here's my blog here.

Ian Lidster said...

Lovely starfish story. My view of charity is this. It is only true generosity if it hurts the donor just a tiny bit. In other words, if you give something to somebody, you should have to think twice about it, wondering if you really want to let it go. If the final answer is 'yes', then that is the true meaning of 'giving.' Hey, works for me.

Pendullum said...

Thank you for the reminder...

urban-urchin said...

what a beautiful example Flip sets. Who knows when we may be one of the starfish. In that time I hope there is one person willing to help me.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Thank you for introducing me to Big Man. His post on this subject is excellent, as are the several others I read while I was there.

I've bookmarked his site so I can belly up there often.

Big Man,

I'm so glad you've come by! Your post goes into far more depth than mine, and I could relate to much of it.

Besides, I love synchronicity. Great minds and all that...:<)

Please come back again.


Yes, we are often exhorted to give until it hurts, and it's good advice because in so doing, we are actually giving a piece of ourselves to another.


So nice to see you again. It's been much too long.


We are all starfish at one time or another, dependent on the kindness of strangers.

Maria said...

What I have noticed in my 49 years, too, is that the most generous of people tend to be those who have the least to give.

Lex said...

I'm a giver, but sometimes by inner cynic wins in the battle for my wallet. I've learned to trust my gut when it comes to panhandlers.

For me, it is a bigger challenge to stop rushing to my destination and take time to greet the person who is asking for my help and honor their dignity with eye contact, a handshake and an introduction. We can easily throw a dollar in someone's general direction and keep going--and many people feel good about this. But when I worked downtown, I learned to acknowledge the person and not just their need. I remember one guy, Mike. Instead of giving him money, I'd ask if he'd join me for lunch. I couldn't really spring for anything fancy on those days, but I think he enjoyed my company and the fact that I was interested in him and his story much more than the free lunch.

Melanie said...

SO very true. it matters... each ripple in the pond affects all the others it touches.


heartinsanfrancisco said...


That's often true, although there are the Paul Newmans and Bill Gates.

Flip is not in their league, but if he were, he'd give it all away.


Mike was lucky to know you.

I have bought lunch for people who claimed to be hungry, only to have them throw it in the bushes and resume their posts, trolling for cash.

But it wasn't wasted because giving made me a better person and because maybe, deep down, they realized that someone cared.


Yes, it does. So very true.

Jonah K. Haslap said...

What a sweet post. It's sentiments like these that almost make me want to stop being a cynical misanthrope. Not quite, but almost.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


That sounds downright scary.

We need to get you into a 12-step program.

Craze said...

Great post! You are right, giving does create a bond between 2 people. I can relate this story to people who don't have time to be more "green" and protect the earth. Every little bit helps.

Molly said...

Isn't there a poem that goes "If I can stop one heart from aching I shall not live in vain"?
I think people need comnnection with other human beings as much, or maybe more, than they need impersonal help from big corporations or governments.....

anne said...

The original story is worth reading; it's by one of my favorite authors, Loren Eiseley. Here's a link:

I find most of his work amazing; that story is a particular favorite, and a viewpoint I tend to subscribe to. Thank you for sharing it.

Kevin Charnas said...

I LOVE this story...And it DOES matter to that one.

It all matters.

thank you for the reminder, my friend.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Until we stop regarding the earth and everything on it as a renewable resource, we will continue to muck it up until we can't live here anymore.


I don't know that poem, but I agree that we need personal connection far more than we do governmental or corporate handouts.


Loren Eiseley is great. Thank you for the link, and your visit.


Here's another quote from Eiseley:

"God knows how many things a man misses by becoming smug and assuming that matters will take their own course."

katrice said...

There was (and may still be) a woman who stood in the median on New York Avenue in D.C. every evening rubbing her gut saying, "I'm hungry and I'm pregnant and my baby needs something to eat. Can you give me anything?"

One day I had a fresh bag of McDonald's and tried to give it to her, because it really was all I had.

She cussed me out but good.

Months later, she was still just as "pregnant", interestingly enough.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


I guess not everyone loves fries as much as you do.

Isn't it amazing how long some pregnancies last?

The same woman threw my bag of food into the bushes and told me to get lost so she could get what she really wanted -- $$$.

Echomouse said...

"After all, life is made up of moments strung together." I loved that sentence right there.

I've never heard a better view of this type of thing than what you've posted here. It truly is necessary to give monetary help now and then. That little bit could change a life. We never know.

Thanks for this post :) It started my weekend off right.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


So glad I could help. :<)

Have a wonderful weekend.

Wanderlust Scarlett said...

I love that starfish story.

It does matter to that one. To every single one we touch, and we are graced with the love we give.

Thanks for posting this.
*LOVE* that photo too!

Scarlett & Viaggiatore

Los Angelista said...

I tend to not give to people on the street because I know that statistically the money is probably going to go to a dealer and I just don't want that happen. I'm more likely to buy some sandwiches and give them to someone. I do give to a couple of LA non-profits that help both the mentally ill and the homeless though. My uncle was homeless and schizophrenic and he died in a shelter only a few blocks from my old office. It was horrible to find that out but my family just didn't know where he was.

By the way, if you get a chance, check out this documentary called "Skid Row". It's about LA's Skid Row and it's really eye-opening, and very, very sad.

Angela said...

I love this story so much. The picture is such a beautiful accompaniment. Thank you for the reminder. Like the man walking, I get discouraged sometimes, too. It's good to be reminded.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Starfish have always seems especially whimsical to me.


How very sad about your uncle...

I'll check out the documentary when I'm in a really positive frame of mind, although is seems a shame to waste it on something that will bring me down.

So maybe I'll watch it when I'm already depressed so I have nothing to lose.


It IS discouraging to believe that we can't make a difference. But we can. We absolutely can, at least with sea creatures.

Wanderlust Scarlett said...

Starfish and Butterflies.

Pure serendipity.

Scarlett & V.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Yes, and butterflies, too. Seahorses. Hummingbirds. Spiderwebs. Moonbeams.
The taste of honeysuckle sipped from the flower, the impossibly green color of new spring grass.

We live in a mystical world, and these are some of the things that connect us to worlds and lifetimes long past.

MsLittlePea said...

I remember that story. One of my Sunday school teachers used it for our class lecture when I was a kid. Her lesson for us was how sometimes one little act of kindness can change a person's life.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Sweet Pea,


James Burnett said...

Great post. I love that parable at the end.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


So do I.

Franki said...

Lovely over here, as usual.

Rebecca said...

My husband is is also a very generous person, rarely failing to give what he can to beggars on the street, and give with an unselfconscious and full heart. I love the starfish story. It serves as a poignant reminder that some circumstances are, in fact, far beyond our control.

heartinsanfrancisco said...




Flip keeps me honest as I vacillate between compassion and cynicism.

RJS said...

I've never heard that sweet story before. I agree. I used to give more money to strangers, until I became suspicious. When we lived in Portland, OR, there were many professional panhandlers. (Someone even taught a course on begging for bucks.) You'd see them with a pathetic sign and plastic cup, and then, a nice SUV would pick them up.

I can imagine the couple's conversation: "Hon, did you have a profitable day begging? How much money, did you screw people out of?"