Taking one step at a time

■ Learning that even little steps may be important

Two boys were playing on a beach, seeing who could skim a rock out the farthest. This was their vacation, and it was good to find the sea flat this morning, particularly after several days ofwild storms when the sea had been whipped up to a frenzy. Turbulent waves and high tides had washed lots of poor sea creatures ashore. The boys found themselves walking through jellyfish, sea slugs, starfish, crabs, and other little animals that coated the beach like a dying blanket.

At the end of the beach the boys noticed a girl frequently wading in and out of the water. Curious to see what she was doing, they headed off in her direction. As they got closer, they saw that she would bend down and pick up one of the sea creatures. She cradled it gently in her hands, waded out into the water, and released it back in its home. Then she returned to the shore, picked up yet another creature, and gently carried it back into the water.

The boys began to laugh. It was just the sort of silly stuff they could expect a girl do. "Hey," they called out, "what are you doing? Can't you see you ain't gonna make any difference? The beach is covered with thousands of dead and dying creatures." And they laughed some more.

The girl seemed to ignore them at first. She picked up a lifeless-looking young octopus, nursed it carefully in her hands, and walked back into the ocean as if the boys didn't exist. She lowered the octopus into the water, tenderly washing away the sand and seaweed that had collected over it and entangled its tentacles. Slowly dropping her hands a little lower, she let the little creature feel the refreshing caress of the sea. It spread its tentacles as if feeling good to be back home once again. Supportively, the girl's hands cupped the young animal until it mustered the strength to propel itself forward. She stood watching, a faint smile on her face at the pleasure of seeing another creature safely on its way.

Only then did she turn and retrace her steps to the shore. Finally, she seemed to notice the jeering boys. Looking them in the eye, she said, "It sure made a difference for that one!"

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