Monday, 26 May 2014

The Dying of a Starfish

There was this story my high school French teacher told us all:

Making a Difference

A small boy was running up and down the beach, feverishly hurling starfish back into the water before they died. An old man approached him. "Do you honestly think your work will make a difference?" he asked skeptically. The boy looked at him with sparkling eyes, held up a starfish and said, "It makes a difference to this one!" and threw the starfish into the sea.

 She gave us a pin of a starfish with a card that had this story on it. Of all the things I hang on to, it means a fair amount. Because I, too, understand the difference one simple action – even if it seems futile to someone else – can have on another being’s life.  This story fuels my passion for making a difference in this world. Whenever I feel like the mountain is insurmountable, I see the card, hanging beside the entrance to my bathroom, and I remember that I don’t have to reach the summit of the mountain. I just have to help one starfish.

I remember the day I met a really special starfish. Her disjointed, awkward movements have been mprinted in my mind through these last 30 months since as the embodiment of her. She was nervous, I thought, but fighting really hard to be confident. She was brilliant, I knew it in the way she purposefully asked me the right questions and nodded her head as I responded. She was determined. I can’t believe I didn’t hire her on the spot. But, that was a lesson I still needed to learn, too.

Like the majority of my 20’s, the memories of our day to day interactions are blurry at best. What I do recall is noticing how much she changed. After she had been working with me for a year, I shared in an email with her my first impressions. Sadly, I can no longer find those words of pride I had for the amazing woman I had watched her become...

I felt like she had come to me as a girl, struggling to be the young woman she wanted to be. And, in less than 12 months, she was that woman in my eyes. And soon, I thought I could see that woman in her eyes, too.

I don’t want to belittle any of who she was or what she did by taking credit for the difference I saw. If any one could take credit for throwing the starfish into the water, it was the whole community that allowed her to show us how much she could swim! 

Perhaps the biggest difference that I saw was that I had gotten to know her better. I may never know if we really helped, or if that was just my hope.

The reason I love her so much is because I saw and see so much of myself in that young woman – both as the girl pretending to be the woman she wants to be and the young woman starting to believe that she was finally there. And, I saw so much of her struggles, from the outside, that I had felt on my inside. And, it made me stronger to believe that I had found her as a wounded starfish on the beach and thrown her back in to the water, where she could rejuvenate herself. Where she had a chance to not just live but thrive as the radiant starfish I saw the potential for on that first day.

We do not see people as they are, we see them as we are.  
~ Anais Nin

Part of me feels the guilt that happens whenever this tragedy happens. 

I feel like I could have thrown her back in the water when I suspected that she was on the beach again. There is an unanswered email from her in my inbox that cracks my heart right open with that guilt. How can I not feel that guilt when my suspicions turn into reality?!?

Another part of me knows that I can’t dwell on that. 

If I learned nothing through the experience that brought her and I into meeting it was to accept that time passes and events occurred.  We can’t change any of it. We can’t even change other people. But, maybe – just maybe – we helped them play in the ocean for a little bit longer. Maybe they rescued us when we thought we were the saviour…

This spring, I started to share that I had the scariest feelings again this winter. A dark pillow sitting on my shoulders, suffocating me from the person I wanted to be. I thought - after years of working my way through that feeling of hopelessness - that those feelings were gone now. I thought that life was more manageable. I expected it to be.  I had left my stressful jobs, I had found the love of my life. I accepted my body for what it was and wasn't. I was through the "Quarter Life Crisis" I had clung to for so many years as an excuse for feeling crappy. I didn’t think I would be here, with everything I have to be grateful for every day, and still need to watch out for the pillow. 

I wonder why I share that I had these feelings. At the time, I couldn’t even tell my fiancĂ©, the rock I tell so much to, for fear he would feel helpless, too. Because – as he has been telling me since I heard the news – outsiders are always just a little bit helpless. And that pillow is scary. Nobody wants to carry that pillow. I didn’t want to burden anybody with that weight. I remember a night this March when he was at work, and I needed to talk to a rock in my life...and I didn't want to burden any of them with the pain... So, I turned in on myself and let the pillow suffocate me until my fiance was done work.

And that is how the pillow wins. That’s why this is a terrifying disease! This is what gets me so riled up about how little we are dealing with it. Of all the illnesses out there that are at the epidemic level, this one is the scariest to me. And it matters. Because that pillow isn’t linked to genetics, or chemicals, or diet. Sometimes, that pillow just hits you ‘cause we live in a shitty society. We push each other to meet such ridiculous standards and we imply that being good and perfect are more important than being happy and accepting of the shitty things. Whether we are teaching our children the rat race that we know is futile, or only communicating through electronics because we don’t have enough time for other people. Society is sucking that pillow into our lives! And, I am so angry about that.

And, so, I have started telling people about the pillow I had, for one week, this winter. There were a lot of feelings before the pillow, but that week was the worst. And, I want people to know about it because it’s important to know about. If I don’t tell you about my pillow, how will you know that it appears in my life? How will you feel comfortable telling me about your pillow? pillow is little. My pillow goes away in the sunshine. I can still push that pillow aside after a lively chat with my fiance or a good friend. Some pillows are heavier. And, people who have heavy pillows need more than their friends to help them. They need the help of professionals. And, we should never take on the burden of thinking that "if only..." we could have moved that pillow for somebody else when their pillow is so heavy.

The last part of me that remains misses my friend.

I’ve been sorting through this pillow stuff, and trying to figure out how to live without it ever again. This takes a lot of energy. And, I avoid social situations when my energy is low. But, I always had hope and faith that I would get to the end of this rebuilding period and my friends would be there. Today, I found out that one of them won’t be. And that makes me incredibly sad.

The truth is, she helped me when I was on the beach, too. There is not just one little boy walking along the beach and throwing the starfish back in. There are tons of us doing it! And we do it because we know it matters. We go through different stages. Sometimes we are the boy, walking along the beach. Other times we are the starfish that needs a little push back into the safety of the water when we’ve found ourselves on the beach. And, for so much more of our lives, we are in that water, enjoying the company of other mending starfish. Every once in a while, we are mended, turn two legs into arms, another leg into eyes, and stroll along that beach helping the starfish again, so we can have more company in the water, making ourselves stronger again.

Whether 'tis Nobler in the mind to suffer
The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die, to sleep—
No more; and by a sleep, to say we end
The Heart-ache, and the thousand Natural shocks
That Flesh is heir to? 'Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep,
To sleep, perchance to Dream; Aye, there's the rub,
For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause. There's the respect
That makes Calamity of so long life:
For who would bear the Whips and Scorns of time,
The Oppressor's wrong, the proud man's Contumely,
The pangs of despised Love, the Law’s delay,
The insolence of Office, and the Spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his Quietus make
With a bare Bodkin? Who would these Fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered 
Country, from whose bourn
No Traveler returns, Puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have,
Than fly to others that we know not of.
Thus Conscience does make Cowards of us all,
And thus the Native hue of Resolution
Is sicklied o'er, with the pale cast of Thought,
And enterprises of great pitch and moment,
With this regard their Currents turn awry,
And lose the name of Action. Soft you now,
The fair Desiree. Nymph, in all thy Orisons
Be thou all my sins remembered.

 ~ from Hamlet's infamous soliloquy 

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