Thursday, February 07, 2013

One Starfish At A Time

When my first child was born after long days of labor, I was not prepared for the all engulfing love that surged through me as I held him, small, wide eyed, fresh to this world.

It was like a shock to the heart.

Suddenly the world I had made it through okay for 3 decades, careless & wandering—suddenly that world was filled with hard corners and sharp edges I had never noticed. And threats from things far away (I remember thinking “must get involved now in anti-draft organizing”). And beauty, of course. Always beauty.

He was so small, six pounds of determined life, held against my skin.

He thrived and is thriving and this isn’t really about him, or about his lovely siblings, each of whom came with their own independent renewal of wonder and love and their primal reminders of how fragile our life is. His sister, but for the skills of our midwife, might have ended her life and mine on that beautiful spring day…we walked very close to the edge, and came back treasuring this life all the more. His little brother blessed us all with the peace of a wise, wild, unique soul.

I have been very lucky in my life. But the edges are always there for me; once your heart has cracked open it’s just no use trying to shut down again. The world floods through, your love floods out, you try to figure out…how do you deal with death and war and cruelty? How do you pile up enough beauty and kindness, enough hugs and “you really are okay” to sweeten an entire world that sometimes seems bent on…oh, the most absurd, the most terrible things?

We all find our way, of course. Sometimes stumbling, sometimes falling. I remember thinking I had grown up properly when I no longer had skinned knees; I guess you grow up a bit further when you realize perhaps your soul itself is a the news of the world.  Which I remind myself my friend Thoreau said one should ignore (and then he ended up in jail, that prickly guy, protesting a war and war taxes…so, perhaps his advice was bravado and he never took it himself anyway).

Not long ago a friend sent me a little starfish, made of ink on thick paper, nicely drawn, with that starfish story that has been making the rounds for a while. You know the one; the man or woman who is standing on the shore, which is covered with a zillion poor little starfishes, and he or she is gently returning them to the ocean. A practical person comes by and points out that look, there are a zillion zillion lost and dying starfishes right there, and even if our idealist spends the whole day putting them back in the sea…lots won’t be saved. Our friend serenely replies something about “well, the ones I do put back will”. I don’t tell jokes well, and sometimes I privately scorn the sweet things passed round—but I treasure my paper starfish, my little emblem of maybe you can’t do everything, but you can do something.

And that’s how I get through. Well, that, and making sure I have some fresh flowers around, and the batty attention of my cats, and the hopeful eyes of my dog, and the sometimes outrageous silliness or profound tenderness of friends and of strangers.

Just do something. If you see something wrong, or hurting, or in need. Do something. It might be..I don’t know, a bit of food for someone who is hungry, a bit of water for someone who thirsts, a listening heart or a voice that says “you are okay” or “wait, that’s wrong”.

I know, it’s simplistic. And some people, seeing something that is just..wrong, do far more dramatic things. Lock themselves to a truck. Climb a tree. Go on a fast. Dance before an altar, release classified documents, stand witness.  End up in jail or with the Nobel prize.

Or on the other hand, maybe we choose a simple life. Keeping the tenderness of the open, broken heart. Picking up the pieces, what little pieces there might be.  Being thankful for the glad morning that comes again, and again, and again, until that final day when it comes no more for us. Maybe it won’t matter then, but I like to think if we each make our brave, impossible, gritty or lovely choices—it will matter, to someone. To the one starfish, or the stranger, or in some mad way, to the universe entire, wheeling, mystical, beyond our dreams, that engulfing love.