These are challenging and inspiring times that feel vaguely familiar to me. Fifty-two years ago, the leader of the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was tragically assassinated. Violence and riots ensued in the streets. There were protests against the Vietnam war. Then Robert F. Kennedy was also shockingly assassinated.
At the Chicago Democratic National Convention that year, students, activists, and other demonstrators clashed violently with Chicago police. And another viral pandemic killed 100,000 Americans.
I’m old enough to remember.
I also remember the peace and love movement, known as “The Age of Aquarius” from the musical Hair. Young people rejected the values of their elders (including war, racism, and inequality) and embraced a more inclusive society.
There are obvious differences between then and now, but the pain of grief and loss, going back hundreds of years, is palpable. More and more (dare I say?) we are grieving together as a country; maybe even as a world. Is it really possible that the grief of a people can be universally validated? I hope so.
It is time to listen and learn. It’s time to build on what began half a century ago and comprehend with more empathy. I hope this period of demonstrations, protests, brutality, and illness are ultimately leading toward peace, love, understanding, and healing.
I want to learn more about the history and experiences of black, brown, and indigenous people. I'm starting to better understand and recognize white privilege and how I’ve benefited from it. Black lives do matter. No one is saying they’re the only ones that matter, but they absolutely should be understood and honored. We must teach our children better and be role models.
Since my personal mandate is to make a positive difference, I’ve been feeling especially inadequate lately. There are so many aspects of life that need to get better; what can one person realistically do by oneself? Read, listen, write, reach out, peacefully demonstrate, donate?
The other day I was listening to the daily guided meditation in my Calm app (which I highly recommend), and it included The Starfish Story. I’d heard it before, but this reminder came at an especially meaningful time. I’ll share it here:
The Starfish Story: One Step Toward Changing the World
Once upon a time, there was an old man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach every morning before he began his work. Early one morning, he was walking along the shore after a big storm had passed and found the vast beach littered with starfish as far as the eye could see, stretching in both directions.
Off in the distance, the old man noticed a small boy approaching. As the boy walked, he paused every so often and as he grew closer, the man could see that he was occasionally bending down to pick up an object and throw it into the sea. The boy came closer still and the man called out, “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”
The young boy paused, looked up, and replied, “Throwing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up onto the beach and they can’t return to the sea by themselves,” the youth replied. “When the sun gets high, they will die, unless I throw them back into the water.”
The old man replied, “But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.”
The boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned, smiled and said, “It made a difference to that one!”
I don’t know the author’s name, but I certainly got the message. We can each make a positive difference in the world, one moment at a time. Each interaction is an opportunity to spread lovingkindness and compassion at a time when these are so desperately needed. No attempt at understanding is meaningless or trivial.
So, what will you do to change the world for the better? Find a starfish and throw it back into the sea. Repeat again and again.
Imagine if everyone did.
Wishing you peace and healing,
PS - Please write back and share your thoughts.
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Essays on Grief Resilience