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StarShine Stories

A Trilogy
Part Two

By: Betty K. Onyett

A Note From The Author

The collection of StarShine Stories is suitable for readers ages 10 to 110. StarShine Stories are true episodes that offer fresh insights into everyday encounters. Our restless society hungers for worthy heroes yet such heroes are everywhere within and about us - shining stars in the Universe - if only we are open to their existence.

Plaque Power

Dad's chosen career required frequent moves. We broke a record when our family settled in one town three years. But I remember passing by a certain otherwise unremarkable plaque hung in the hallway of each of several spots that became home. Where had it come from? A yard sale? A dime store gift? I have no idea.

Was the plaque or its message important to mom or dad? Important enough, I guess, to be hung on the wall. Not important enough, though, that I can recall anyone pointing it out or mentioning it in any way. It was simply there, like the flowers on our wallpaper or the knickknack that, once placed on the mantel, remained there indefinitely, a decoration to dust more than to dote upon. And that is the level of importance I assigned to it as my childhood business took me alongside it each day.

Oh, I do recall pausing once, out of momentary curiosity - it had two blue birds on it that caught my eye - to briefly investigate what the plaque was about. Mainly, I remember that it contained a conversation between them about how humans seemed from the birds' point of view. This was, for me, a brand new angle to ponder and I took it in, then went on about my more crucial childhood doings, without giving it further thought, or so it seemed.

Then, why does this memory matter? Because, despite near no-attention to this small plaque, its message is obviously indelibly imprinted, if not consciously, then nevertheless deeply and unconsciously, where it remains more than fifty years later. And because, though I cannot quote it exactly, I know exactly what it was about, without having seen it all those years and memorization being one of my lifelong weakest abilities!

The plaque read (or nearly so):

Bird #1: There's just one thing I'd like to know:
Why do humans run in circles so?
They fret and stew and stomp and worry,
Why are they in such a hurry?

Bird #2: I don't know why humans rush and run,
It really couldn't be much fun.
If, like birds, they flew on wings,
Do you think they'd see important things?

One of the key techniques employed in accelerated learning strategies is the power of posters, signs, affirmations, and other printed or non-verbal messages to influence subliminal learning. Instructors are taught to purposefully use this strategy to reinforce and enhance lesson content. They are also alerted that this procedure works in reverse. If students are told in health class, for example, that smoking is harmful, then pass beside the teachers' smoking area from which smoke billows, what is the actual message students receive? Which message carries more power - intended or unintended?

What Do I Know?

I know that the message on a cheap little plaque, barely noticed but constantly present, is still with me, half a century later. I know that as a child I was a sponge, whether aware of it or not, soaking up whatever my environment offered.

I see children with little or catch-as-catch-can exposure to the highest and best of human thinking, aspiration, achievement, and behavior. I see that these children are bored, restless, anxious, and alienated.

I hear parents say that what their children hear and see does not influence or harm them. And I know that they are wrong.

Warning: Hair Today, Gone Tommorow

A sudden cloudburst - truly torrents of rain - left three nearly grown juvenile blackbirds lying lifeless on the sidewalk beneath the high gutter where their nest had rested. Stunned, I wondered how it could be that birds so mature in appearance could not yet fly to safety.

The nesting location had not been welcome. I remembered ranting, "Why can't you build your nest in a tree like birds are supposed to!" Even so, coming without warning upon the motionless young birds was both startling and saddening. Exactly what had happened I did not know, but the swift downpour had probably violently dislodged the nest and ejected them to their demise.

Sadness, yes. And I detected a twinge of fear. The clear message of the scene before me was that, bird or human, we can one instant be alive and thriving, the next instant be wiped out and gone. It is shocking to come face to face with the stark reality that earthly existence is so precarious, so subject to calamitous change.

"Hair today, gone tomorrow!" I chuckled, recalling a corny bald man joke.

But this really was not funny. I had seen the parent birds making endless food flights to their young who at this size must have had voracious appetites. Now, in a twinkling, there was no longer a need to rush frantically to and fro. What must that mean for them, suddenly set free from constant care giving, that instinctual devotion chore that had defined their waking hours for weeks?

Is individual life of so little value, I mused, that it can suddenly be snuffed out, leaving parent birds or human loved ones with the void of a now empty nest, faced with rearranging habitual routines around their loss?

Are we nothing more than a puny perturbation in the larger stream of life, with the world continuing to flow on its unconcerned way with scarcely an altered ripple to mark our passing through?

Then this thought, fast following: It is not at all that an individual life is meaningless. To the contrary, every bit of creation is of great value, from an inauspicious cicada to the most auspicious sage.

Rather, the point is that each and every part of creation is precious, having its unique spot in the whole of life, its niche that it alone can fill.

What Do I Know?

A third thought immediately joined the others, settling all into perspective. The innocent lives of the three blackbirds are as much to be honored as my own or any other because this is less about a sad ending than it is about the ongoing and overlapping flux of life, no matter what the precise time span.

I vowed at that moment to fly my part of that uniqueness in such a way that it might be worthy of honor, might be honorable…whenever my twittering time is up.

Betty's Boomerang

Incredulous, I sat on the floor staring at the suitcase full of photos.

And then, to tell the truth, I completely lost it.

Mom was moving from the island to the mainland and lightening her load of belongings.

"I thought maybe you'd like to have some of these," she had said. "I just can't take all these things to the new apartment." She pointed to several boxes and old suitcases in the attic and left me to explore their contents.

I had just opened the suitcase before me. It proved to be full of old photos. My thoughts flew to the day, months after my divorce, when I realized I had left the photo albums behind with all the pictures that marked the history of the newly ended relationship.

I particularly wished to have those noting the years of our daughter's growing up, photos that I myself had taken and placed with such loving care into albums. I greatly regretted the loss but had resigned myself to it.

Here, before me, lay those very same photos, dozens and dozens of them. My daughter from birth to toddler, from school milestones to birthday party antics, vacation doings, teenage mug shots - all in this precious pile because I had sent them to mom and dad, three or four at a time throughout those many years.

Because I had taken the care to share my/our life events, I marveled, this gift now came flooding back to me. Each time I thought I was sending these tokens of love to others, I hadn't an inkling that I was returning them to my future self.

What Do I Know?

The measure you give is the measure you shall receive, piled high and running over. Hallelujah and Amen, Sister.

Win Win Wavelength

Mitchell credits his wife for starting a significant venture in his life by urging him to run for city council in his small town.

"People on the Council keep coming to you for advice. Why not do it up front?"

Get into politics? Did he really want to? Hardly anyone had anything good to say about politicians or government these days.

A family psychologist, converted to school counselor for the past ten years, Mitch had to admit that he loved working with people, helping them resolve personal and interpersonal problems. He had not only the training but also the knack for posing the right questions to draw out others and the sense to know when to simply listen. He was expressive, but tactfully so; assertive, but a peacemaker at heart.

This happy mix of acquired and natural skills might be labeled wisdom. Whatever it was, others often phoned him to "sit down and talk a bit over a cup of coffee." Mitchell's favorite counseling center was Jenny's Diner, which really did feature good coffee.

So, Mitchell, nearing retirement and seeking a new mini-adventure, took his wife up on her suggestion and to no one's surprise but his own was easily elected to leadership in their community. Before long, he rose to the position of president of city council in the small town. Mitch found that he enjoyed the work even more than he had anticipated. "I didn't know how wonderful politics could be," he stated, shaking his head at this late discovery.

In his words: "If people could only know the potential of politics to bring citizens together to help each other figure out how to get what they want as individuals and as a community. If they could only see the possibilities through politics to accomplish things that no one of us can do alone. The democratic process is an amazing tool. It is designed to be used for the common good of all.

"To facilitate that process is very exciting to me. I am grateful to have the chance to help in this way to create a better climate for everyone in the area. My wish is that more people could see what politics and government can do when everyone cooperates to serve, not to separate, a community. It sure is a challenge, though, to get us all pulling together, rather than being scrappy and playing power games!"

It was indeed a challenge in many ways. There were bills to pay, insurance liability claims to settle, local businesses to serve (without favoritism), equipment and supplies to purchase (locally, if possible) and, of course, citizens' complaints and concerns to consider.

One of Mitch's biggest missions, as he saw it, was to steer his constituents to points of agreement rather than of divisiveness, no small job when members chose to put their opinion, personal agenda, or party line loyalty before their call to be a public servant. But, because he so thoroughly believed in amiable action, he brought the others together, time and again, to the benefit of all, with his talent for defusing volatile situations and turning confusion and contention into peaceful conciliation.

Alan, a council member, was predisposed to hotheadedness. As time went on, Alan seemed less and less able to control his angry outbursts, including language inappropriate enough to embarrass the entire council body. They began to fear that observers, especially the press, might pick up on Alan's less than helpful remarks, to the detriment of all. Certainly, Alan's attitude and behavior were beginning to work against the effectiveness of their assigned business.

After one such meeting when Alan had again ignored tactful urgings to cease and desist, Mitchell found a private moment to approach him.

"Alan," he said, "want to go out for a cup of coffee?"

Alan nodded, "Sure."

Settled comfortably in a booth at Jenny's Diner, Mitchell came quickly to the point. "Alan," he said, not unkindly, "you know that I'm going to have to impose sanctions on you if your angry outbursts continue, don't you? We can't allow swearing and name-calling to interrupt our sessions." Alan dropped his gaze.

Mitch drew Alan upward again by asking if there was any way he might help with whatever was on his mind.

Alan began, slowly at first, to tell of his marital frustrations and his wife's threats to throw him out if he continued his drinking. Mitchell listened as a mentor and friend to this obviously troubled man. He offered no unasked for advice, just listened intently, without judging. They parted amicably.

Unfortunately, Alan's sadness and anger continued. At the next inappropriate tirade, Mitchell quietly announced at the council table, "Alan, for the sake of this Council's role as a public example of leadership in our town, I regret that I must impose sanctions on your behavior and ask you to now leave. As City Council, we cannot allow offensive language to disrupt the business we are here to accomplish."

As Alan left the room, Mitchell noticed that two council members began to whisper together in a disrespectful way. Staring pointedly at the two, Mitchell firmly requested everyone's full attention, resuming action on the interrupted item of business.

When the two members again made disdainful eye contact and leaned toward one another to continue their asides, he said calmly but firmly, "We'll have none of that." They ceased, and respect prevailed.

I wish I could report that Alan made a magical turn around. Unfortunately, not all real life stories have fairy tale endings, with all living happily ever after. About a year later, Alan committed suicide. But he knew to the end that Mitchell was his ally, not his enemy, despite his removal from city council. He knew that Mitchell cared, really cared.

What Do I Know?

Mitchell's love for America and his appreciation for its heritage and the democratic process, along with his compassionate and wise governing for the common good, ably guided his leadership in his corner of the world. If all government leaders and hopefuls, from the smallest town council upward, operated from Mitchell's win-win wavelength, we would have so many corners of cooperation that it would surely become a win-win world.

Battery Chargers And Jump Starts

Can't believe I did it [but I did].

Left the van light on all night [cause] and now the engine will not start [consequence]. Battery is deader than dead [redundant, for effect]. How annoying [am momentarily grounded]. So much for today's plans [get out the eraser]. Be flexible [I'm trying, honey]. Don't worry, be happy [be serious].

Teenage neighbor happens by. Father has slow charger. Should he get it? Oh, yes, please. Hook charger up to garage outlet. Will take a little while, he says. Maybe an hour. Not sure. Will come back after awhile to check. Okay.

One hour later. Engine still won't start. Awhile more. Yes.

Two hours later. Some progress. Van starts, but dies. Won't idle. Awhile more. Yep.

Still not long enough. Maybe one more hour will do the trick? Boy must go somewhere. Oh, well. Thanks so much for trying, anyway. Takes charger home. Still grounded. Sigh.

Call Automobile Club. Emergency crew Big Time Guys zoom in. Hook van up somehow to bumper of tow truck. Zap! Five minutes from arrival engine running smoothly. Idles okay. Does not die. Keep it running for awhile. Will do. Build battery back up. All right.

Finally on my way. Not grounded now. Forward ho at last.

What Do I Know?

Maybe my own slower and harder way works, eventually. But calling in the Big Time Power Source works faster and easier. Gives a bigger boost.

Wiser choice would have avoided the energy loss in the first place. For sure.

Choice to call for Big Time Help sooner would have saved time. Oh, yes.

Plug in. Get connected. Keep the charge, Child.

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