Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Starfish Theory

Legend of the Starfish
Adapted from “The Star Thrower” by Loren Eiseley (1907-1977)

A vacationing businessman was walking along a beach when he saw a young boy in the distance that appeared to be moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who would dance joyfully to the day, and walked faster to catch up.

As he got closer, he noticed that the young boy was not dancing at all. Instead he was reaching on to the shore, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean. It soon became apparent that there were many starfish along the shoreline that had been washed up by the tide, that would surely die before the evening tide returned. So the boy was walking slowly along the shore, occasionally reaching down to the sandy beach, and tossing a beached starfish back into the ocean.

As the businessman got closer to the boy he called out, “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”

The young man paused, looked up, and replied, “I’m throwing starfish into the ocean. The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don't throw them in, they'll die.”

“You have a good heart young man,” the businessman replied, “but do you realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish along every mile? You can't possibly make a difference!”

The boy looked up at that man, and then he looked down at a starfish by his feet. He picked up the starfish, and as he gently tossed it back into the ocean, he said, “I made a difference to that one.”

* * * * *

I have always been enamored by the unique simplicity of the Starfish, one of the most strikingly beautiful creatures of God’s underwater creations. Their beauty is magnified only by their interesting characteristics of five or more arms, and an often spiky appearance used for protection. Starfish are also known as “sea stars” and are not really fish at all, despite the name that has been given to them. These echinoderms are found in abundance in various patterns of bright colors and stripes, in deep blue seas as well as shallow waters.

In the story of “The Star Thrower” the sea stars that have been washed up on the beach are struggling to stay alive until the tide can carry them back home. Like the starfish, we are all His children, each one unique and loved like the other. We come in different sizes, shapes, and colors, each with varied personalities and viewpoints. We too are struggling, each with our own life challenges, learning and growing, trying to make it back to our Heavenly home.

In my extended family, we are each struggling on the sandy beach of life, trying to love one another, trying to make a difference, and trying to face our trials with dignity, while hoping to make it safely back home to the loving arms of our Father in Heaven. I have always been “Switzerland” in my family of sea stars, usually preferring to remain neutral, avoiding direct confrontation. The other sea stars are used to my family role, where problems and complaints can be aired without fear of retaliation. Switzerland sea star had become proficient in allowing other’s opinions to wash over her protected surface, nodding as if in agreement, even when viewpoints are not shared.

Recently however, I had an experience with extended family that become “messy,” to say the least.  For one of the first times in my life, I drew a line in the sand, standing up for what I believed was morally ethical, voicing my true opinion instead of being "Switzerland Sea Star," avoiding the expected house of hostility that would surely follow if I voiced my truth.  I had assumed we were all part of a team, working for the common good, each with a unique role in the care of our aging parents. Suddenly, without warning, I was hit with the reality that I had taken my role as financial adviser more seriously than was expected. It was made painfully clear to me by the rejection I experienced by one particular sea star, that I was only a volunteer "bill payer," and anything more was not appreciated or desired. Anything more was not my responsibility.

Nonetheless, finding my voice of differing opinion has changed the core dynamics of my extended family and I have discovered that some of the other sea stars “needed” my silence in order to believe their opinions were shared by the majority, therefore retaining their desired power. Finding my voice was oddly “freeing” after years of unsaid opinions came rolling in with the afternoon tide. Unfortunately, like the starfish, my older sibling’s protective spiky shell came out in self defense and I felt her immediate rejection of my opinion as she struggled to justify her actions. I felt clouded with feelings of insignificance and low self worth.

I searched my heart in prayer, wondering if my Father in Heaven was pleased with my stand of truth. My answer came in the form of a blessing given by a faithful home teacher, fulfilling his priesthood duty. He was not aware of anything going on in my life, yet I was not prepared for the remarkable words that came from his mouth. I KNEW they were not his words.  I can't even adequately express what they meant to me or the impression they made on my soul, as this treasured friend became God’s instrument, picking my struggling sea star from off the beach of sand, and gently throwing me back into the ocean where God’s gentle grace blessed me with loving words of courage, strength, and confidence. My joy was unspeakable! Unexpectedly I was told that my voice should never be silent again from that day on, as I learned and grew as His child of God.

Family comes to us from different places, and just as the star fish on the shore were struggling to get back in the sea, we are His children striving to feel His love and to know that we are each individually important to Him. So he sends another’s hands, like the small boy on the beach, to guide us back into His loving arms when we lose our way.

The story of “The Star Thrower” is a classic story from 1979, written by Loren Eiseley, both a scientist and a poet, and hailed as a modern day Henry David Thoreau. To this day his writing is the subject of much discussion and inspiration. The Star Thrower is a powerful story of the potential within each one of us to make a difference in the lives of others. It is a gentle reminder that we should be here for each other, to give service, even in small ways, whenever we can.

In such turbulent times as these, when we may often feel alone and small, unable to make any lasting changes in our lives, we may find ourselves asking, “What can I do that will make a difference? What can one person like me do?”

In reality we don't have to be rich, talented or even particularly intelligent to make a difference in the life of another. We just need to remember that we are all here for a purpose, and that making small changes in the world, eventually adds up to something bigger in the life of another.

No matter how small your action might be, it makes a difference to someone! One person can change the reality of another. When we become throwers of the stars, we too, have the power to change the world.

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