I have a special affinity for starfish, which are sometimes referred to as "sea stars." There is something magical about a creature which, at least in name, seems to unite the mysteries of the heavens with those of the seas. There is also something magical and inspirational about the proven regenerative powers of starfish. According to the American Heritage Science Dictionary, "starfish can grow new arms if any are lost, and in one species, a whole individual can be regenerated from a single piece of arm." This is encouraging, to say the least, for someone like me who is on the glide path to seventy, though the regeneration that continues to fascinate me is perhaps more spiritual than physical in nature.
During my winter beach walks along the coast of South Carolina, I frequently discover starfish that have been washed in by the tide and deposited on the teeming wet sand. More often than not, the starfish I encounter have died and are destined to be picked up by collectors or reclaimed by the next high tide. From time to time, however, I discover live starfish wriggling just beneath the bubbling sand or trapped in a tidal pool. When that occurs, I always pick up the starfish and hurl it back into the ocean. It's a practice I've followed since reading Loren Eiseley's fine essay, The Star Thrower, many years ago. I don't know whether I have ever actually saved any starfish lives, but the mere act of providing some with a second chance has saved a part of my own.
In short, my eyes perk up when I see the word starfish, and that is precisely what happened yesterday as I stood in a bookstore and randomly opened a new poetry anthology. On the page before me was a poem titled Starfish, by Eleanor Lerman. Starfish play a role in the poem, but there is much more here; it's a little meditation on the myriad gifts of life, especially the ones that often go unseen. I share this with you because the poem resonated with me, and it's my hope that you, too, will find something here that lifts your spirits.
This is what life does. It lets you walk up to
the store and buy breakfast and the paper, on a
stiff knee. It lets you choose the way you have
your eggs, your coffee. Then it sits a fisherman
down beside you at the counter who says, Last night
the channel was full of starfish. And you wonder,
is this a message, finally, or just another day?
Life lets you take the dog for a walk down to the
pond, where whole generations of biological
processes are boiling beneath the mud. Reeds
speak to you of the natural world: they whisper,
they sing. And herons pass by. Are you old
enough to appreciate the moment? Too old?
There is movement beneath the water, but it
may be nothing. There may be nothing going on.
And then life suggests that you remember the
years you ran around, the years you developed
a shocking lifestyle, advocated careless abandon,
owned a chilly heart. Upon reflection, you are
genuinely surprised to find how quiet you have
become. And then life lets you go home to think
about all this. Which you do, for quite a long time.
Later, you wake up beside your old love, the one
who never had any conditions, the one who waited
you out. This is life's way of letting you know that
you are lucky. (It won't give you smart or brave,
so you'll have to settle for lucky.) Because you
were born at a good time. Because you
were able to listen when people spoke to you. Because you
stopped when you should have started again.
So life lets you have a sandwich, and pie for your
late night dessert. (Pie for the dog, as well.) And
then sends you back to bed, to dreamland,
while outside, the starfish drift through the channel,
with smiles on their starry faces as they head
out to deep water, to the far and boundless sea.
Photo Credits: Both images were found on Wikimedia Commons. The image of the Royal Starfish (immediately above) was taken by Mark Walz.