Of Pork Rinds and Starfish

I last night grabbed drinks with a new friend. Before the meeting, I looked him up and learned that he worked for many years at JSOC as a Navy Intelligence Officer. A LP had introduced us.

JSOC is the group that coordinates special ops. Think SEAL teams, rescuing hostages, top-secret missions in the Middle East, etc. I had learned more about JSOC when I read SEAL Team Six and Lone Survivor.

The meeting started very warmly. My guest isn’t from New England, and so, I ordered some shellfish. Then, I eyed pork rinds on the menu.

I grew up eating, on occasion, pork rinds. Little did I know that my guest is a big fan of the dish, too, having culturally grown up around that food item in Mississippi.

So, yes, there we were in the bar area of the swanky Mandarin hotel in Back Bay, having some drinks.

And. Eating. Pork. Rinds.

A total hoot.

Eventually, the topic turned to JSOC. We talked about his time in Iraq, the long stretches of time away from his family, the difficulties of nation building, the seemingly intractable problems in the Middle East, and the time he was stationed in S. Florida to help with drug interdiction efforts.

My guest talked about the tremendous and seemingly-endless amount of work that he and his colleagues had to do. That, sometimes, they wondered if they were having an impact at all.

He mentioned The Starfish Story. You may be familiar with it.

It’s very easy to become cynical and down. It’s very easy to feel existential anxiety and wonder whether your efforts as an entrepreneur, parent, school teacher, or soldier are creating any good at all. Too many problems, too many school children from difficult home situations, too many insurgents.

As I’ve blogged before, the power of one life can really move the needle. Things do matter, in the end. And, if you don’t keep trying, you’ll never know “what could have been.”

It was a real privilege to meet my guest. He spent eight years in the service. He probably saw many, many tragic things.

I’ll end this post with the story:

A young man is walking along the ocean and sees a beach on which thousands and thousands of starfish have washed ashore. Further along he sees an old man, walking slowly and stooping often, picking up one starfish after another and tossing each one gently into the ocean.

“Why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?,” he asks.

“Because the sun is up and the tide is going out and if I don’t throw them further in they will die.”

“But, old man, don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it! You can’t possibly save them all, you can’t even save one-tenth of them. In fact, even if you work all day, your efforts won’t make any difference at all.”

The old man listened calmly and then bent down to pick up another starfish and threw it into the sea. “It made a difference to that one.”

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