When I was at the beach two years ago with my ex and our gaggle of girls, we did a Father’s Day breakfast picnic on the beach to surprise him. We were sitting there, enjoying guava pastries and giving him our cards, when a lady walked up to us.
She was holding a purple and orange “Royal Starfish” that had washed up on the beach. She gave it to us to keep — she was local and rightly suspected we were on vacation, and she thought the girls would like it. I remember being very touched by the gesture and by the serendipity of the five starfish arms and the five of us. What a nice souvenir of the trip to take home and remember.
We made it home with the starfish intact, but my ex was not very careful with it. He dropped it and two of the arms broke off. I was terribly sad about it, more so than anyone else. Some souvenirs cannot be replaced. The starfish and what it stood for in my mind were magical things.
Fast forward two years, one broken and embittered heart, and a whole lot of crap…
My roommate, Shannon, and I were at the beach. It was the first time I had been since the previous trip with my ex. Late one night, we went down to walk the shoreline and look for shells. St. Augustine, like many beaches, is far from the shelling shore it used to be, but we still collected what we could. While we were walking, I told her the story about the woman and the starfish, how upset I was when it ended up broken due to my ex’s lack of care, how I probably should have taken that as a sign.
We were walking in the water, right on the edge where the incoming tide bubbles over your toes with a frothy hiss. It was not even half a minute after I finished telling her the story that I looked down and, at that moment, the waves washed up the same rare species of starfish, right in front of my right big toe. All I had to do was bend over and pick it up.
I’m not going to lie. I got pretty choked up. Chalk it up to coincidence all you want, but imagine all the infinite combinations of moments and waves and sea creatures and people walking in the surf for that to happen. For the Universe to lay a single star right at my feet right at that moment.
I brought the starfish home. Don’t worry, I didn’t kill it. Poor thing was already a goner.
Einstein said something along the lines of there being only two ways of living your life: as though nothing is a miracle or as though everything is. Stuff like this — serendipity, coincidence, good luck, la Fortuna — happens to me all the time. These things crop up like snippets of a long, unbroken conversation between me and the incomprehensible All.
Moments like these humble me because I have no words to explain them. And that makes me happy. I don’t need to assign names or theories or religious meaning to make these pieces fit. If anything, the lack of human, rational explanation makes them more special.
I suppose that’s the core of this writer’s mystical philosophy: it doesn’t have to make sense. You just have to be open to the wonder and appreciate it. It doesn’t need a name. It just needs you to be strong and present and ready to gather up stars in your hands.