Winter has painted the world outside my window in a palette of grays. I sit at my desk yearning for a daffodil’s bright yellow or just a flash of red from a cardinal’s wing. I am about to melt into an afternoon slump, when I spy relief right above my head! It is a glass star suspended with nylon thread and a bit of blue curling ribbon. It has been there for a few years, but on this afternoon it supplies the surprise of color I need. The star, a gift from my daughter, lulls me into its slow spin. As it turns, I notice how the deep blue, aquamarine, and violet hues swirl out from a heart like center. The ribbons of color reach towards the tip of each point but stop leaving the endpoints clear. It is as if the star is wearing a colorful suit. I note that the points resemble arms and legs; as each appendage curves and twists suggesting a sort of musculature. The figure seems taut and strong. I am reminded of the starfish I always searched for on the beach as a child. Yet, my glass star imparts a human like bravado and insouciance that lifts me on this gray afternoon.
Starfish or more accurately sea stars are actually not fish at all. They are invertebrates and are related to the echinoderms such as the sand dollar, sea cucumber, and sea urchins. Alas, the only real sea stars I ever encountered were stiff corpses found on the dusty shelves of gift shops or were caught in tacky displays at beachside eateries. The only living sea stars I observed resided behind the heavy glass of aquarium tanks. Unlike my proud little star, sea stars lie low on the sea floor protecting their soft undersides with their tough bony skin. Their most unique characteristic is not bravado but regeneration. Should a predator gnaw at an appendage, the sea star breaks free by simply detaching the segment and making its escape. In a few days time, it will miraculously grow another in its place and plod along again newly whole. These natural defenses must suit sea stars well, because they can live as long as thirty five years. Yet, I wonder if they weary of such a sedentary existence always waiting for trouble to come along.
I look up at my brave, jaunty star still swaying from it’s ribbon and thread, It seems to be suggesting a different way of being from its living brethren. I remember an interview I recently heard with author and researcher, Brene Brown. She spoke of a need for “strong backs, soft fronts, and wild hearts.” It is her remedy for tackling the fear and separation that so many of us have come to know since the 2016 election. Backs strong enough to speak our truth. Fronts soft enough to really listen and take in the opinions of those who see things differently. Yet Brown contends, we also need hearts wild enough to confront our own fears and step beyond our self imposed boundaries to see the world from another’s perspective.
Like the sea stars, we can strengthen our backs not with the bony calcifications of our own certitude but with truth and honest self reflection. Yet, we must also let our soft fronts open to our own pain and the pain of another. It will indeed take a wild, brave heart to get us off our personal ocean floors. Yet as I look up at my glass star, I am reminded that I, too, have strength and fragility. Each of us is a study in contradictions. We may appear strong and brave, but we are also as fragile as glass. If we learn to carry our contradictions perhaps our hearts will soften. Surely, a softened heart opens more easily to a neighbor or someone with whom we disagree.
Encounters with those who see things differently can be messy, awkward, and at times painful. I experienced several feisty and unresolved discussions with my father during and after the election, but I also had insightful conversations with my sister that opened my eyes to the dismay she experienced. Surely reaching out is far better than staying in a walled off camp of distrust or playing it safe by lying low. The sooner we find our way back to each other, the sooner our families, communities, and nation might begin to heal and thrive.
My fragile glass talisman suspended above my desk still lifts me just as it did on that gray afternoon. As the bright colors play in the light, it also reminds me to be strong, let my truth shine, and bravely open my arms to everyone. ~c.h.