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StarShine Stories

A Trilogy
Part Three

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.

Three Inches To Freedom

The central chimney of my huge old brick home houses bats. About once a year, a bat makes its way down the chimney and flies about from room to room. As ugly as bats may be (from a human viewpoint), I appreciate their appetite for insects and unique echolocation abilities. Some nature centers even provide bat houses, to encourage their presence. At Chautauqua Institution in New York State, the Bird and Bat Society sells t-shirts fondly calling the creatures "Chautauqua Butterflies. " Nevertheless, I neither encourage nor am fond of bats in my house.

In my experience, bats are generally as afraid of humans, if not more so, than humans are of them. But bats are mammals and a bat bite, though rare, can be more than an annoyance. So I have, over time, developed a strategy for getting an unwanted bat to exit ASAP. That's the plan, anyway.

I shut doors quickly so that the bat becomes, ideally, confined to the living room. I open the outer door and prop it open. I then inform the bat (mostly for my sake, I suspect) that it and I will both be much happier if it goes - shoo, shoo - back to its bat family - shoo, shoo - NOW.

Before someone gets out pen and paper to record these bat extraction tips, I should explain that this method worked once. Other times, the bats did whatever they decided to do, despite my plan. Sometimes they disappear and I never see them again, my hope being that they successfully made their way back up the chimney, lured by their cousins calling. One time a bat disappeared, then knocked my socks off when I entered the bathroom two days later and unexpectedly discovered it sitting in my sink.

Although definitely not on my Favorite Animal list, I confess I have even gone so far as to put out water and a little meat (well, what would you feed an insect-loving bat?). I did this because I read that bats have a very high metabolism and need frequent food. Also, I have a very high metabolism for environmental concern and need to regard with kindness the creatures with whom I share this home planet.

Well, so much for batty ramblings. Someday I intend to put a bat barrier in my chimney that might end the thrilling bat scenarios, altogether. I do want to relate one memorable bat saga, though.

I got the bat confined to the living room, per plan Step 1. I opened the outer door, to make an easy exit route, Step 2. The bat flew from one part of the room to the other, swooping low in the middle (I ducked), perching high on the brick wall side where the ceiling is 12 feet tall. I grabbed a broom to try Step 3 of the plan: shooing.

Instead, I bumped the flying bat with the broom and it became even more frightened. Then, glory of glories, it soared straight toward the open door!

Did it go on out? No. It perched low on the door jam and there it stayed, three inches from the open door! It was so terrified that it clung there in shock, seemingly unaware of the opening right beside it.

Finally, I could stand it no longer. As gently as possible, I nudged it outside with the broom. It flopped onto a low bush. I had done what I could, and the rest was up to the bat, so I went back inside and called it a night. All I know is that I kept mentally informing it to "Go back to your bat family. Go back to your bat family. They are calling you and they miss you!" The next time I looked, it was gone. Good!

What Do I Know?

Fear paralyzes the ability to reason and to see clearly.

The bat, immobilized by fear, right next to the open door and easy escape to freedom, placed itself in a self-made prison! The door to the prison was wide open, yet it couldn't see it!

I have sometimes been in a self-imposed prison for years, before realizing there was no door on the cage and I could have flown out any time that I decided to.

Blessings upon beautiful bewildered bats and Bettys.

Purple Martins

My neighbors, Henry and Hannah, had two purple martin houses.

One afternoon as they relaxed on their porch savoring the lake view, the martins began to make a terrible fuss, flying repeatedly at the porch. They could not imagine what was upsetting the birds so.

Then Henry remembered that he had once found a baby martin on the ground and returned it to its house high above. Henry now searched beneath one of the martin houses and, sure enough, discovered a baby bird lying on a bush there. He brought his ladder and placed the baby gently in the house.

Henry rejoined Hannah, but again the martins dive-bombed the porch.

Checking under the other martin house, Henry found a second fallen baby bird, so immature that it as yet had no feathers. He returned the baby to the house, in what he hoped was the proper apartment. Again they settled themselves upon the porch. They were not bothered further.

Whoa. What about bird brain, as in stupid? What about instinct, as in inborn, rather than learned, behavior? What about memory, as in keeping something in mind that was learned or experienced? What about intent, as in willful asking?

What about this mind-stopper: Would it seem that the martins had found a guardian angel, and knew it?

What Do I Know?

The South American Q'ero nation cosmology holds animals, plants and rivers, among other things in creation, as the equals of humans.

It seems clear to me that our "advanced" American culture greatly underestimates and undervalues the wisdom and abilities of our earthly co-companions, other forms of life we condescendingly label "lower."

It seems clear to me that we would do well to hold humble respect for all life, human and otherwise. It would be to our advantage, I think, to be humbly receptive to what all forms of energy may possess for us to learn.if and when we are ready.

Sit Back And See

Painful for a very long time, my left knee made walking and exercising difficult. I longed to bring relief in as natural a way as possible.

One afternoon, sloshing through the slush of a February thaw, I unloaded groceries from my van parked in the alley beside the porch. Returning to the car for more, I started onto the semicircular stepstone. My feet began to slide forward from under me. Arms flailing, I began to fall backward, unavoidably headed down.

Now, this is where something strange began to occur.

By the time I reached the ground, my body which had been in a backward fall, twisted forward so that the first part of me to make contact was my left knee. Unbelievably, but undeniably true. And that knee struck the ground, hard.

"Oh, no! I had to fall on that bum knee, of all spots!" I yelped. Aggravating it further was the last thing I wanted!

Down I went, sitting full-bottomed in the snowy slush, crablike. Already down, now a soggy mess, there seemed to be no hurry in hopping right up. Best to check things out slowly, anyway.

Suddenly this thought flashed in: "What would you say if you knew the knee got popped back in place and was cured?" That was such a preposterously wishful idea that I laughed aloud.

Well, why not? Already soaking wet, with a hugely clobbered knee, whatever damage was done was done. Why not laugh? Certainly, the alternative being currently considered - creative cussing - could serve no better.

"Okay! Sounds good to me! I'll buy that!"

Then, grandly, as though delivering leading lines onstage in some tragic-comedy, I declared, "I give my knee permission to be healed!" gesturing heavenward with asweeping theatrical flourish.

Lacking, only, was an applauding audience.

What was there to lose? In a ridiculously ungraceful position and sopping wet, the only reason to be grateful I could imagine at that point was that I had not struck my head or back on the stone steps. Besides, I would soon know one way or the other whether anything was "cured" or not, and entertaining the idea for a moment was fun, wasn't it?

I arose gingerly, backside dripping with chilly slush. I stood carefully. So far, so good. No sharp pains or signs of bodily distress anywhere. I gradually put my full weight on the left leg and knee. It didn't hurt. Hey, it did not hurt at all, and it used to! I jiggled this way and that. Still nothing.

You don't suppose.? That's too much to hope, but time will be the true test, anyhow. Only with time could I know if this would last. So wait and see.

I walked ever so much more carefully to finish my unloading, put the van in the garage, and headed inside to change my clothes.

Yes, the knee was healed.

That was over four years ago and the knee has not hurt or prohibited exercise and walking, since. But, that's only half of the story.

The truth is that, although the knee was apparently cured, my body twisted so drastically from the initial falling backward position, then landing forward onto my knee (I know, it boggles my mind, too), that my midsection and ribs were severely wrenched. No pain in knee now. Much pain in midriff!

I didn't wish to look a gift horse in the face, as mother used to say, but it did seem ironic to rejoice greatly about healing one glitch that got replaced by an equally awful secondary glitch!

"What kind of joke is the Universe playing on me? Would you please tell me what this craziness is about?" I implored.

Again, a strong thought: "Well, if you had (regular) surgery, might you not have a recovery period, and aren't recovery periods sometimes temporarily unpleasant?"

Wow. What a surprise idea! So surprising, in fact, that I felt my mind relax into the word "temporarily," saying, "Ah, so this, too, shall pass. Soon, I hope. No big deal." I released my concern with a relieved sigh - Ouch!

And it came to pass. The ribs, so sore as to cause me to exclaim aloud when a sneeze or cough or deep breath caught me unaware, gradually returned to normal over the next couple of months, and remained so.

Was this a miraculous cure? Well, I asked for a cure and the knee received one. No doubt of that. And it was surely not ordinary, so I guess that makes it extraordinary, a.k.a. miraculous. But what does miraculous mean? Simply something we think cannot happen, according to our present understanding. Right?

But what if our present information is limited or faulty? What if the actual truth is larger than our understanding and goes beyond what we've been taught is possible?

What if miraculous healing is not only possible but probable - the order of the day - if only we could accept it?

What if the unified field theory that Einstein sought to prove, and believed could explain all phenomena in one fell swoop, is a reality?

What if the idea proposed by quantum physicists of a Universe with many more levels than our 3-D linear time-space dimension embraces other laws beyond our earthly perception?

What Do I Know?

I believe in miracles. I expect miracles. Because, to me, miracles are the only logical conclusion in a multi-dimensional Universe.

I figure it can't hurt to be open to the extraordinary. I figure it can't hurt to sit back and give a miracle permission to be.

Honestly, Mom!

Incident #1:

Special Education Supervisor: You asked to see me.

My Mom: Yes.

Supervisor: How can I help you?

Mom: I have to have a day off tomorrow. I have to have time off from Janie.

Supervisor: Do you want a sick day?

Mom: No. I just have to have a day away from Janie.

Supervisor: (strong eye contact) Mildred, you want a sick day, right?

Mom: No. I'm not sick. I just can't take any more of Janie for now.

Supervisor: (slowly, intently) Mildred, you need a sick day, right?

Mom: No. I just need a vacation from Janie.

The supervisor gave up, writing mom's name at the top of a Sick Day Request form.

Incident #2:

Aspiring young musicians are familiar with Regional Music Contests. Participating students memorize a solo to play for judges who write encouraging and constructive comments about their performances. Points are assigned leading to Superior, Excellent, or Good rankings.

Playing in front of strangers and being evaluated is a stressful but useful experience. It gives valuable feedback from someone other than your own music teacher or a parent who is often pleased just to get you to practice regularly. Students are motivated to excel beyond the routine lesson level.

As a ninth grader and four-year cello student, I prepared a middle movement of an intermediate level concerto. Mother, a piano teacher, served as my accompanist. I practiced and practiced, alone and with mom, memorization not being a natural gift.

The day and hour of my solo time arrived. I handed the required copy of my piece to the judge. Mom and I glanced at each other. I felt as well prepared as possible, but nervous. I took a deep breath and we started. All went well until I was to repeat a section and suddenly went blank as to how it began.

I stopped. Mom stopped. I wanted to run screaming and crying from the scene, but gathered the shreds of my poise about me and tried not to show my distress.

Mom and I began the section again. This time I completed it without difficulty. Actually, except for the mortifying forgetful lapse, I had done well. But all I could think of during the interminable wait for the judge to complete the written review was my glaring blunder.

Whew! I received a Superior, despite my mistake! The judge did not give me a perfect score (they rarely do), but kindly said that I had handled myself "gracefully."

As mom and I exited the performance room and stood in the hallway, two others who were present during my solo approached, saying that they had enjoyed my playing.

As I listened to the first round of praise, I told myself wishfully that maybe my awful lapse wasn't as noticeable as I had thought.

When the second person raved about my playing, I began to recover even more, nearly dismissing my blunder as though it hadn't happened.

The fan club left and mother and I stood alone for the first time. "It was pretty good," she nodded, of my playing. "Too bad there was that spot in the middle."

Two things occurred within me at that moment. Poof! Her remark pricked my ego balloon and I deflated to nothing in nothing flat. But at the same time, I knew in my heart that she was on target. Her frankness had brought me back to reality, painful as that was. She and I both knew that I was capable of doing better. There was something good, if not gladsome, about her blunt honesty that set the situation straight.

I do not think that my mother could have lied if her very life depended upon it, that being completely beyond her lifelong code of honor. My father, though socially more sophisticated, was the same. For them, lying ranked equal to the Thou Shalt Not Commandments and Seven Deadly Sins. To emphasize this point, I add that my sister and I were never told there was a Santa Claus, though we had fun pretending to leave cookies and milk for Santa and his reindeer, secretly setting out our parents' favorite goodies.

Mom was not skilled with small talk. Growing up, I was certain that every other kid's mother was far more cool and with it than mine. Being embarrassed to be seen in public with my mom was a teenage attitude not unique to me, of course. But it was true that my mom was different, though not in a disapproving or dictatorial way, being quiet by nature. It was true that many other mothers were more socially savvy than mine.

She was simply, the child who when asked if he liked the emperor's new clothes, blurted that the emperor had no clothes on and was, in fact, naked. Mom cut to the core as she saw it. Impressing others was a foreign concept.

Is there a place for pleasant chitchat, boosting of others' self worth, sincere praise, and sensitivity to someone's vulnerability? Yes. Is there any excuse for callously hurting others with the unadorned truth as we view it? No. Is there a time for reality checks, even when they step on our toes and tweak our nose? Well, how else will we be prepared for unadorned reality where not all others care to be loyal members of our exclusive Fan Club or to bolster our feel good forever illusions?

If our parents do not have the courage to do this, who will? Our teacher, boss, spouse, friend, law officer, and doctor? By way of flunking, firing, failed relationship, arrest, and Prozac? And younger is better, it seems to me. For the older we get, the more public and less forgiving the lesson is apt to be.

What Do I Know?

There is something immensely valuable in having been exposed to zero tolerance for dishonesty, superficial flattery, and contrived social correctness. Though I might choose to be less blunt, witnessing honesty in action provided an ethical homing beacon.

Sometimes we need others who love us enough to offer the tough love of truth, others who view our liking to hear the truth as irrelevant, in the light of what they believe to be our best interest.

Sometimes someone needs to say what we wish to avoid admitting: "My dear, the emperor is, frankly, naked."

A Hard Pill To Swallow

Slow to adopt most new fads or marketing novelties, our family generally lagged behind "the Joneses." My sister and I learned early never to ask for something because "Everyone has it/is doing it." We knew the predictable response would always be, "Not everyone has it/is doing it, because we don't/aren't."

Our financial resources were modest. They went mainly toward items like music lessons, family vacations, books, getting the piano tuned, school supplies, gasoline, housing, and healthy food. Fads and new inventions were not on the "must have" list, nor was keeping up with the neighbors.

If the car ran and the sofa was comfortable, who cared how it looked, according to dad, and we lived by dad's values. A hand carpet sweeper sufficed, until he found out that an electric vacuum sweeper would make less dust and, therefore, be more healthful for us (namely, his sinus problem).

In the 50s, we were the last family in the neighborhood to get a television set. While visiting my grandparents one summer, dad discovered the educational value of visual newscasts, national political conventions, and travelogues, becoming convinced of the worth of that new gimmick, TV.

My sister and I (in the 6th and 9th grade) laughingly but enthusiastically sang MIC/KEY/MOUSE along with the Mouseketeers, so fascinated were we with this new phenomenon. In our defense, there really wasn't much else but kiddies' shows on in daytime programming, then. Enter, vitamin pills, newly marketed. They were good for us, so they were readily adopted into our family budget and routine, specifically, our breakfast time.

A big yellow pill sat beside each glass of orange juice. What's that? My sister and I eye-signaled.

First off, they stunk. They were big and garishly yellow and wouldn't go down my throat - and I truly tried. Yuck! Dad crushed one and we tried it in my cereal. It tasted so bad that I wouldn't eat the cereal. We tried it in jelly, but it totally ruined the toast.

I hated those yellow yucky abominations with a fierce third grade You can't make me do this! Passion.

Except, in our family, we did as we were told or else, no ifs/ands or maybes, and that was it, honey bunch, subject closed. And the or else was definitely not fun.

So, I cleverly figured out a way around this edict. I began to pretend to take my yucky yellow morning vitamin pill. I picked it up, "tossed" it into my mouth,"swallowed" it with gusto, then secretly deposited it in my lap or pocket, to dispose of it at my earliest convenience.

If I could, I flushed it down the toilet. But with four people and one bathroom, and me often running out the door to school nearly tardy, I developed a habit of slyly dropping the offensive pill into the deep snow as I scurried through the yard.

Great solution. Out of sight, out of mind, not down the hatch. Did I feel guilty about this sneakiness? Only to the extent that I knew the vitamin pills cost money and we had little to spare. Otherwise, no least until the snow began to melt.

One Saturday morning, long relaxed to my customary pretense, I did not notice that I was being closely monitored as I "took" my vitamin. As soon as my hand headed for my lap, I was questioned pointedly if I had taken it. Shocked into instant alertness, I lied, "Yes," dropping the pill quickly into my lap.

"Hold out your hand." Empty. Next, an examination of the lap where, of course, the huge loathed pill ominously lay. Dad stated, "We found vitamin pills in the yard."

The jig was up. Completely up. Like a smuggler, I was caught red-handed with the evidence and also, horror of horrors, caught in my lie about it. My world stopped dead still.

But not for long. I burst into copious tears. I sobbed that I couldn't, absolutely could not, swallow those monstrous pills. That was true. Well probably, but I laid it on dramatically, desperately, in self-defense of the indefensible crime.

Oh, woe is me, poor child of dark destiny, commanded to do the infinitely impossible!

A grand display and a genuine, if exaggerated, one. I was panic stricken at having been caught so thoroughly, so completely, in dishonest behavior, no matter how justified my prevarication might be to my child-mind. More to the point, I feared mightily what the consequences might be.

For the next eon and a half I sat at the kitchen table, tempest now diminished to after-sobs, instructed to "learn how to swallow that pill."

I tried, sort of, but the sobbing and fear and sadness and disgust at the gross yellow yucky stinky pill dominated my feeble efforts. That pill sat in my mouth and absolutely refused to budge beyond, no matter how many times I tried.

Finally, still sobbing, so bloated with liquid that my stomach stuck out like a great round pumpkin, I was resignedly released to my bedroom where I gladly hid out for the next couple of hours, leaving only to head for the bathroom every fifteen minutes due to fluid overload.

For the life of me, I cannot recall whether I was ever again asked to take another of those dread vitamin pills. I take pills just fine, now, even huge ones. Maybe my throat grew larger? Maybe I learned to stick pills far back in the mouth before swallowing? Whatever. Somewhere along the line I obviously overcame this childhood aversion and graduated out of that landmark trauma.

In retrospect, it must have been very difficult for my parents to learn that nomatter how exemplary their upbringing efforts or how clearly they had tried to model and convey standards of honesty, it had not yet fully worked on me.

It must have been a hard pill to swallow that they, as devoted parents, were not perfect or that they had not produced a perfect child.

What Do I Know?

From that moment, I never lied to my parents again. Oh, sure, you say. No, it is true. Maybe I didn't always tell all, but I learned firsthand that lying and devious behavior become their own prisons, create their own thickening webs of complexity until they are certain to be discovered, and probably painfully so.

I decided in the third grade that "lies will out," and common sense says to communicate, not prevaricate.

Also, parents can only go so far. We can provide an environment consistently rich with examples and opportunities that invite standards of excellence and ethics. The rest is up to the child. Lessons will be learned, no matter the resistance, and it seems that some of us choose to learn our lessons the hard way. Like it or not, 'tis the way 'tis.

Perfect parenting is impossible. We can only sow the seeds and trust the innate growth process. Do our best and let go of the rest. And keep the lines of communication and compassion open, to bridge that gap.

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