The Star Thrower

TK Blog: June 15, 2020

    Three months into the pandemic finds Covid19 has taken a sudden back seat to the prevailing news story: “Black Lives Matter.” All media—including local newspapers, radio broadcasts, television or internet reports—are saturated with pictures of outraged people marching in protest citing disproportionate police brutality against Black Americans and people of colour. The tragic death of George Floyd has fanned the flames of racism which has been smoldering for years in both United States and in Canada.  These stories are raising awareness and serious questions not only about policing and systemic racism but also about the role that each of us can play to make a difference. As an art psychotherapist, involved in a service profession that often administers to the most vulnerable of society, what is my role? How do I even begin to become more engaged with the world and more socially responsible when sometimes the stories of these protesters seem far removed from my life experience?

     Pondering this question reminds me of the “starfish story,” a story shared in one of my university classes years ago. Originally published in an essay by Loren Eiseley in 1969, “The Star Thrower” has appeared in various forms and publications and goes something like this (with apologies to the author for unintentional alterations):      An older gentleman who walked daily on a long stretch of beach noticed that a recent storm had washed thousands of starfish up onto the sand. He came upon a small boy who was methodically (and futilely thought the old gentleman) tossing the starfish one-by-one back into the sea. As he approached the boy, the boy looked up in surprise. “You know you will never be able to save all of these starfish. There are thousands of them,” the old gentleman chided. “What difference do you think you are making?” Without hesitation, the boy stooped down and carefully picked up another starfish and flung it as far as he could into the waves. “It will make a difference to that one,” the boy responded. The old gentleman smiled knowingly and bent down and picked up another starfish to toss into the safety of the ocean waves.

     I find my answer in this simple story—one step at a time, one starfish at a time. The story reminds me that the most common reason for procrastinating is that we see the challenges before us as overwhelming. In my training to become an art psychotherapist, one way of overcoming challenges begins with the cultivation of inner awareness and cultural competency. It starts with knowing my own story. Countless studio hours have taught me that “coming to know intimately the stories of our own lives through art making enables us to have empathy for the stories of others” (Hyland-Moon, 2002, p. 282).  The very act of listening to another’s story, witnessing the art images that result, and making sense out of feelings is a privilege which informs me and opens the channels of communication. Rather than becoming overwhelmed by the damage we have done to each other as human beings and losing hope in the possibility for change, perhaps listening to one another can be that first step—one starfish at a time! Perhaps simply through sharing personal stories and really listening to one another, we can open our hearts and walk a pathway to better understanding and appreciation of our similarities and our differences.