Never underestimate the impact that your words and actions have on the lives of others.
Consider the sea star tossed on the beach by an errant wave and now stranded far from an environment that supports it. Perhaps an individual finds that sea star and takes the time to place it back into the sea so it can continue its life’s journey. Neither sea star nor sea star thrower recognizes how that encounter has affected both of their lives.
At one time or another, we all are like sea stars, washed up on an unfamiliar beach, totally outside of the comfort we have known, going nowhere, and struggling to survive. Then some force—whether fate or someone’s hand—gives us another chance to grow and live. Something has changed and we are moving forward again. These tales depict both sea stars and those who return them to the sea, offering hope for the future and reminding us of times when we experienced the helping hands of others.
This collection of short stories celebrates those who find themselves out of their depths and the people who reach out to help them.
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Read an Excerpt
You make a difference in the lives of everyone you meet just by being you.
It was her first professional job. To the outside world she was competent and knowledgeable. Success was assured. However, in her own world she had little confidence in her own abilities. She didn't really know herself or how her career would evolve. The future felt very uncertain.
A Sea Star washes ashore, upside down, waving its arms in the air erratically, knowing it has to turn itself right side up to survive and lacking the leverage to do so.
Searching for something, not sure what that was, she attended a seminar on leadership techniques at the local Chamber of Commerce. The seminar speaker was dynamic and engaging. During a break in the program she introduced herself to the speaker and expressed her interest in the speaker's work and asked to assist. Looking back on that moment she realized what a risk she was taking. After all, what would the speaker really get from knowing her? On the one hand, the speaker could thank her for saying hello and move on smiling that one so young would presume to offer her assistance. On the other hand, the speaker could take her information and promise to follow up recognizing her as someone with a passion for learning, ready to make her mark in the world. Simply taking her information was enough encouragement for her to feel she had made the right connection.
Attempting to touch a surface that would support its efforts the Sea Star reaches out.
Surprisingly, several days later the speaker called to invite her to lunch. The speaker, unlike other professionals she had met, focused on her, on her interests and goals. Here was her opportunity to learn leadership, professionalism, and self-confidence. Her future was becoming more certain.
The Sea Star gets a firm hold on something solid and finds the leverage to turn over.
Over the years, she and the speaker met regularly. When she took another job and moved away the speaker was there by phone or email always supportive and encouraging. They collaborated on multiple projects. She developed leadership abilities and became more confident. The projects, the conversations, and the partnership helped her to be successful as her career path became much more clear.
The Sea Star is right side up and glides across the beach to the sea.
Like the Sea Star her life was different because she reached out and the speaker made the difference simply by being there.
What's in a name? that which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet;
Starfish are not fish. So let's stop calling them what they are not and start calling them what they are: Sea Stars. Now maybe the name thing doesn't matter much to them, for all we know their names could be Pat or Chris or Sam. Maybe they don't have a name at all and that's ok for them.
Humans, on the other hand, have names. Our parents had reasons for giving us those names. Perhaps they were passing on a traditional name one that would connect us with all the relatives in our history. Perhaps the name was a variation of their own so we would represent them proudly as we walked through life. On the other hand, consider Apple, Rumor, and Zowie. Some thought must have been given to those names as the new parents gazed upon their newborn babes. I wonder what they were thinking.
The fact is that the name we are given at birth can make a difference in our lives. Consider the plight of "A Boy Named Sue" written by Johnny Cash. In this ballad Cash sings about his pa who left him at the age of 3. He describes the gifts his pa gave him before he left: an old guitar, an empty bottle of booze, and a name that would cause others to question his identity. Certainly naming a boy Sue would require that boy to defend himself throughout his life and, in his father's logic, to make him strong.
Maybe that's what the biologists did when they changed the name of this ocean creature that is not a fish to the more appropriate Sea Star.
I am convinced all of humanity is born with more gifts than we know. Most are born geniuses and just get de-geniused rapidly.
He sat in the seat right in front of my desk. He was always on time for class, always had his work done, and always listened with every fiber of his being. He soaked in the lessons. He knew, instinctively, that to succeed in this world and get away from this town, he had to learn everything. He was 15 years old.
He came from a home that had less than nothing in terms of material things. His clothing was threadbare. His shoes were scuffed and worn. His so-called friends made fun of his efforts in school. He was in the lower level of each course. He worked hard to learn.
My job was to teach a roomful of 15 year olds about the ancient cultures that had shaped the world's history. His eyes always followed me as I talked about the wonders of a world so far from his own in time and distance and reality.
He came to class early one day and handed me his English assignment, a poem. I asked why he was handing it to me instead of his English teacher.
"My English teacher said I wasn't smart enough to write poetry that's why I am in the slow class." If those words took my breath away I could only imagine how he had reacted.
I watched a cold, strong wave of water crash onto the shore. I saw a Sea Star gasping for air on the beach.
Regaining my composure I read the poem slowly. "I think your poem is wonderful. Thank you for sharing it with me. You are one of my best students and you are smart in so many ways."
I watched him take a long, deep breath. He smiled broadly and took his seat in front of my desk just as the bell signaled the start of class.
The Sea Star sailed through the air, landed softly on the water's surface and slid smoothly to its place in the ocean.
Don't limit yourself to someone else's opinion of your capabilities. Be you. Dream, plan, execute!
A label is a word that describes a person or thing, giving the reader, or listener, a way of identifying that person or thing. Labels on things protect us from danger "hot surface" or give us instructions on caring for something "dry clean only" or describe a limitation "will shrink in hot water". That's great for things. That's not so great for people.
Labeling a Sea Star a starfish is inaccurate because Sea Stars are not fish.
Reading was always difficult for him. The words on the page seemed to have a life of their own, mixing themselves up so the sentences made no sense. The more he read the less he understood. And yet, instinctively, he knew he could do anything he set his mind to.
Sea Stars live on the ocean floor and can lose an arm when attacked by a predator. No matter, they can grow another one.
Throughout his school years he was labeled "slow" by family members who watched him struggle to read. He didn't advance in school the way the others did. He wasn't as "quick" as the others. No matter, he kept moving along because he knew he could.
Missing an arm only slows down the Sea Star making them appear different from the others. No matter, they can still move forward.
He made it through high school graduating at the bottom of his class. There was a job waiting for him in town in "the mill". Somehow that didn't seem the right fit for him, too limiting. He joined the Navy. He knew there was more he could do.
As time goes on Sea Stars will regenerate a new arm in the same place where they had lost the other.
He did more. He worked as an electrician on aircraft that flew off Naval carriers. He became part of the flight crew and served as a navigator on an A3D Skywarrior. He finished his military service, went to college, and worked for NASA. Then he went back to college and earned a degree in the healthcare field. He discovered that he was dyslexic while running his own private healthcare practice.
Dyslexia was just one more label. No matter, instinctively he knew he could do anything he set his mind to. And he did.
The Sea Star grows a new arm, catches a wave, and settles into the sea.
Labels Only Limit Us If We Believe Them
A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.
Remember when you were in high school and your teacher introduced "The Project"? "The Project" was always something that carried a heavy weight toward your grade and required time, effort, and creativity on your part. In high school time and effort were expected; creativity had to be discovered. So you searched for anyone who could help.
And so he appeared at the door to my classroom.
"Hey, Ms. T, I need to make a banner on the computer. It's my project. Have you got anything I can use?".
Now I always had stuff the kids could use. I leafed through some papers on my desk and handed him a motivational quotation I was going to hang up in my classroom.
"Try this", I offered. "When you're finished with the project I'll hang the banner in my room."
He earned an A for his banner. The banner hung in the front of my classroom for the rest of the school year.
15 years later ...
My high school teaching days had faded away and still my former students appeared when I least expected them. So there I was in the local supermarket when I was greeted with
"Hey, Ms. T., I thought that was you! Remember me? (of course I didn't, do you remember everyone you've encountered over time? – doesn't matter, the name will come to me).
"Hi. Great to see you." I responded searching desperately for some clue of recognition. "How long has it been?" "15 years." He replied.
"So how's your life?" I asked.
"My life is great and I owe it to you."
Now I'm starting to panic. What is his name? What did I do that made his life great? I replied with the standard teacher comment.
"Oh thank you for that but the effort was all yours."
"Oh no. It's because of that banner you had at the front of your room. I looked at it everyday."
Now I'm searching desperately for the mental picture of my classroom.
Then I saw it. In bold letters, 12 inches high spread across 6 feet of my classroom, a location that the students could not avoid as they looked to the front of the room. I smiled as I remembered.
WINNERS COME IN CANS, LOSERS COME IN CAN'TS
He continued, "... and now when I struggle with something I remember that banner, and I know I can. I know I am a winner."
The project served its purpose, twice.
Two Sea Stars thrown ~ Two lives made different.
Winter, spring, summer or fall All you have to do is call And I'll be there You've got a friend
Sometimes all it takes is an errant wave or a change in current to carry a Sea Star off its course and turn its world upside down, literally. Now here it is stranded on a beach in a very uncomfortable position.
It can take an upside down Sea Star more than 10 minutes to turn itself right side up.
Remember a time when you struggled to make sense of your situation? You were in a very uncomfortable position. You knew where you needed to be and just couldn't get there. You thought about it. You analyzed it. You tried to turn yourself over and no amount of maneuvering would put you back where you needed to be. What do you do? Where do you turn? Who can help?
When you're down in troubles ... Close your eyes and think of me And soon I will be there
And then you remember. You have a friend. A friend who knows you well enough and is brave enough to tell you what you need to hear. A friend who gives you just enough of a lift, an insight, an extra thought that helps you turn yourself around or over if you are a Sea Star.
Sometimes all a Sea Star needs is a friendly "pick-me-up"; a gentle lift so it can get its right side up and maneuver itself back to the comfort of its ocean home.
Sometimes that's exactly what we all need. We just need a friend.
You've got a friend.1
The Phone Call
"Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind. 'Pooh', he whispered. 'Yes, Piglet?' 'Nothing', said Piglet, taking Pooh's paw.
'I just wanted to be sure of you.'"
It was a beautiful Saturday morning in early spring. The quiet and the calm surrounded me as I enjoyed my first cup of coffee and the next chapter in the book I was reading. Then the phone rang. (Those were the days before cell phones when the one phone in the house was located on the wall in the kitchen.) With three teenage girls in the house the sound of a ringing phone on a Saturday morning initiates a highly competitive foot race. The youngest girl won this time much to her sisters' disgust.
Sea Stars will crash into each other in their effort to move through the water.
From my vantage point at the kitchen table I heard: "A party! Yes!! Well, of course." She said with lots of enthusiasm.
Then with obvious disgust she added, "Hang on, you know I have to ask first. Yeah, I know, I don't like it either but you know the way it goes around here."
I set aside my book and wait expectantly to be asked to give permission for her to go to the party.
Without a word my youngest teenager placed the phone on the counter and moved to the refrigerator. Rummaging through the top shelf she found the orange juice and poured herself a glass. She drank the juice slowly, looked over at me, smiled and raised the glass in my direction. Remembering the rules about keeping the kitchen clean she placed the glass in the sink before returning to the phone.
Basking in the warmth of the sun the Sea Star lounges in the shallows of a tidal pool.
The conversation continued:
"Well, here's a surprise. I can't go!" she said with much annoyance and considerable disappointment in her voice.
"I know. They never let me do anything I want to do. OK. Well, you have fun. Call me tomorrow and let me know what happened. Yeah, you too, 'bye."
I watched her saunter back toward her room still without saying a word to me.
Ok, teenage girls are an enigma, I get that, and with three of them in the house I knew I had to learn as much as I could as fast as I could. I needed to explore this latest view into the teenage psyche. I needed to understand how I played the deciding role in this scenario without being consulted.
Feeling more than just a little confused I asked: "Hold up there kiddo. Will you please explain to me what just happened? I didn't say you couldn't go. You didn't even ask me."
Casually she responded, "I didn't need to ask. I knew you would let me go. Except I didn't want to go to that party."
A small window of understanding opened into my consciousness. "So you used me as the excuse, as the bad guy, who wouldn't let you do anything with your friends."
She smiled one of her beautiful little girl smiles and responded "yup".
The Sea Star glides slowly back into the comfort of its tidal pool.
And then, as she walked away contentedly, I heard "thanks mom".
Moms always make a difference sometimes just by being there.
Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.
It was a simple gesture. Something I do many times a day. I shook a stranger's hand.
I was attending a conference on leadership skills for women when I was introduced to a young lady who was serving an internship with a local organization. She smiled pleasantly, made appropriate eye contact with me, and we shook hands. We exchanged the usual pleasantries. I took my seat in the conference room.
In my career I have met a number of young people serving internships. In some cases they were nervous and unsure of themselves. In other cases they were overly confident and too eager to please. This young lady seemed to be balancing her nervousness with an eagerness to learn. She stood out in the crowd. I watched her throughout the conference as she took instructions and performed her duties with courtesy and efficiency. I knew this young lady was going to make a difference.
A Sea Star Thrower in the making!
When the conference ended I was walking to my car when I heard my name called. I turned to see the same young lady running toward me.
"Please excuse me", she said. "I've met a lot of people today and your handshake was outstanding. Would you please teach me to shake hands the way you do so I can make that same impression on others."
There it was ...
... a simple gesture that made a lasting impression.
... a simple gesture that connected two strangers
... a simple gesture that this young woman will repeat many times
... a simple gesture that will touch the lives of more than just this young lady and myself.
Excerpted from "Stars in the Sea"
Copyright © 2017 Jeanne Taylor McClellan.
Excerpted by permission of iUniverse.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
The Story, ix,
Sea Stars, xiii,
Sea Star Throwers, xv,
The Speaker, 1,
The Name, 5,
The Poet, 9,
The Label, 13,
The Project, 17,
The Friend, 21,
The Phone Call, 25,
The Handshake, 31,
The Tradition, 35,
The Coach, 39,
The King And His Tutor, 43,
The Connection, part 1, 49,
The Connection, part 2, 53,
The Turtles, 59,
The Role Reversal, 63,
The One and Only, 67,
The Last Ride, 71,
One more thought, 77,
And With Thanks, 79,