The Time to Throw Stars

Yesterday, Scott and I discussed social media and the ups and downs of scrolling through countless posts of gloom and doom in the time of global crisis. It’s necessary but taxing on the human spirit—something that’s sorely needed if we are to endure the pandemic and its long-reaching outcomes. I wanted to share something positive—a story, a note of encouragement—something that spoke of metaphor and meaning. No one engaged with that post because there was not a personal photo attached and brevity was not on my side. So I explained the story to Scott, the lessons learned from Loren Eiseley’s essay, “The Star Thrower” in which he comes upon a scene in Costabel (a place of critical consciousness) where the ocean has thrust forward scores of starfish and inhabited shells upon the beach left to die before the tide can swallow them back up. In this moment, Eiseley encounters many competing individuals who are collecting the starfish and shells to be boiled, cleaned and sold. Eventually, after making his way past this group, he comes upon a sole gentleman who is searching for the living starfish, stuck in the sand with legs thrusting out as if to ask for help. He plucks them out one by one and throws them back into the ocean far enough that hopefully, they won’t get swept back onto the beach. Eiseley finds this more curious than meaningful and after a brief conversation with the man, he heads back and contemplates his past and present.

There is much to analyze about this story as it is a metaphor that tackles robust themes, symbolism, and imagery, and offers poignant reflections about the self, the self in relation to others, evolution, religion, and humanity. There are blogs, academic essays, websites, and videos dedicated to analyzing “The Star Thrower” and in a way, this piece is no exception.

Ironically, as we have more time to slow down and be reflective, social media perpetuates the exact opposite, a fast scroll through images and shares that we pause to engage with for only a few seconds if it catches our attention. It has become the View-Master of the 21st century, the click-and-move-on mechanism that speaks to our inability to pause and focus without concentrated effort. This method is why so many students will struggle with online classes and their teachers will struggle with building them (for all grade levels, including university and college). But that’s a post for another day.

This is a picture of our daughter in Hawaii, searching for shells on the beach. I love this photo because of the colors and memory, the moment when the cacophonous sounds of the ocean and whipping winds surrounded us, and my beautiful daughter sought to find something in the sand—a treasure worth examining. Scott recommended I put this story with my analysis because it would make people stop. It might make someone even read. If you’ve come this far, it worked.

As we find each day confronting a violent ocean that casts stars upon the beach, we have several choices as to what we can do with them. Do we solely lament their expiration? Do we profit off their lives? Do we simply do nothing? To endure is to move with the tides of evolution in its most chaotic and often heart-wrenching forms. We are young with respect to the earth. We are mere forms of matter that walk a planet that continually offers war and peace in one breath. It is our universal consciousness that does much the same. We have to evolve with this new reality, previous hopes temporarily shuttered as we await further instruction. It means that we are standing on that beach with the star thrower, contemplating the universe in its complexities, trying to ascertain who we want to be again. Grief and sorrow are not our allies. Eisely (1969) writes:

Man is himself, like the universe he inhabits, like the demoniacal stirrings of the ooze from which he sprang, a tale of desolations. He walks in his mind from birth to death the long resounding shores of endless disillusionment. Finally, the commitment to life departs or turns to bitterness. But out of such desolation emerges the awesome freedom to choose—to choose beyond the narrowly circumscribed circle that delimits the animal being. In that widening ring of human choice, chaos and order renew their symbolic struggle in the role of titans. They contend for the destiny of a world. (p. 88-89)

In part 4 of the chapter, Eiseley decides to revisit the star thrower and finds him, once again, alone on the beach. He makes the decision to join him.

Silently I sought and picked up a still-living star, spinning it far out into the waves. I spoke once briefly. “I understand,” I said. “Call me another thrower.” Only then I allowed myself to think, He is not alone any longer. After us there will be others (p. 89).

In that moment on the beach, my daughter is searching for something. For the time being, lets call it hope—a living starfish—something of which we can save. I will join her. Now is the time to throw stars.

Further reading links:
Eiseley, L. (1969). The unexpected universe. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World.
Eiseley, L. (1979). The star thrower. New York: Harcourt Brace & Company.

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