Starfish by Eleanor Lerman

This is what life does. It lets you walk up to
the store to 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 and started again.

So life lets you have a sandwich, and pie for your
late night dessert. (Pie for the dog, as well.) And
then life 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.

A recent favourite of mine. : ) My first memory of starfish was of a dead one, in a church camp off in a part of an offshore island or some-other-where (Jakarta?) where I was with a group of children (none of whom I remember, interestingly, very few of my childhood memories are of people)… The instructor told us that we would be making letter holders, and I remember putting coloured ice cream sticks together in some sort of eccentric kindergarten type design, and – I remember accurately this moment – she handed out little dried starfishes to paste on our letter holders. I had been puzzled by the starfish, I fingered it many times, it felt like dry earth, like mud, and had milipede-type ends (at that age of 5, I was very involved in milipedes and centipedes) and I remembered feeling so curious about it. Dried starfish. Till today, I do not really know if it was a fake starfish or a real one. But at that time I was puzzled why people would dry starfish, what would a starfish look like alive, and why dried starfish had to go on ice cream sticks.

Through the whole night when people were singing ecclesiastical church songs, I felt guilty, for I could not stop thinking of my little starfish. But no one really knew how I felt, because that was the way I was a child, when I was puzzled about something, I only asked about it after I had resolved my own opinion about it internally.

But I remember feeling then, that I was not sure about how I felt about that little starfish. Did I like it? Did I not? Was there a story behind the starfish? What about the other starfishes in the bag? If I pasted it on my letter holder, would it come alive at night? etc.


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