It was winter in early 2019. And I was in pain. I had three vertebrae fused in my neck a few years ago which was a successful procedure, but there is still discomfort with the surrounding muscles, my hips complain when I sit for too long and winter cold and short days can make me depressed.
About that time, I was struck with a random idea. To buy those little stars like we got in school for gluing macaroni to a flimsy white paper plate in art class, and give them out randomly to whoever crossed my path during my day. The goal being to get out of myself and recognize someone else. Period. Because focusing on me when I am hurting can make the pain worse and cause me to lose sight of the fact that there are others out there.
At first, I focused on groups of friends that I hung out with. Large groups for dinners. I would pull out my sheet, go around the table and give each person a star.
Most just received joyfully. There were a couple of people out of the ten thousand plus that I calculated I have given stars to who said no. That hurt the first time. I took it personally. But then I remembered that it was not about me. And that left me just feeling sad for those who could not receive. For whatever reason.
I suspect some people think or have thought I was odd or silly. And to be honest, I stopped giving stars out at the check stand of Walgreen’s to the customer in front of me just because they were there. Some people don’t want to be bothered. How sad to me that being acknowledged could be taken as bother, but that has been my observation on the very few occasions people say no. Or maybe when I was wearing my painting clothes which could look to a stranger like I might have aluminum foil lining in my hat for better reception from my home planet, wearing jeans shorts covered in brightly finger painted stars and hearts, that could catch the innocent shopper off guard.
These are my Tulsa peeps. Friends and co-workers. I feel so much joy just writing this and seeing these pictures. It’s a virtual starring for me here today.
I have to tell you that when I did the math, thinking I had given out a hundred or so, only to see that each sheet has 55 stars on it and I calculated how many packages holding over 400 stars I had bought at my Walgreen’s with the frequency of a mother of 8 buying milk for her kids, I was stunned! Just laying these out to count 550 was stunning to think of that many people I got to engage with. It was at least 5000 stars at first count! This was about a year ago. And since then, I estimate giving out 5000 more.
My star giving seems to have morphed into only doing so when the spirit moves me as to the when and who I give stars to. And that tends to be people who provide a service. Like grocery store workers, wait people and fast food workers, with a few beach going tourists, girl scouts and T.V. reporters peppered in for good measure.
When asked, “What is this for?” I say in all earnest, “You got out of bed this morning. And that takes courage.” I know, first hand, that on some days, just breathing in and out is the best I have. I did that for a year while I grieved my marriage of 24 years. Thankfully, that pain subsided. But in the midst of it, I could not see daylight. And considered suicide.
You never know from the outside with a person what is going on on the inside. And while this all began as something to make me feel better, it became so much more.
I go to a McDonald’s every week for happy meals that I get to share with my art making friends. At this particular store, they employ felons who have done their time. I have looked at faces that were pointed to the floor and watched them change when I give them a little gold star. “This is for you. Have a great day!” What I see after that is a hung head raised up. And a light in their eyes that belongs to that five year old inside. Followed by a huge grin. It’s like watching the sun come out. It sure lifts MY spirit. Times 10,000.
I work from home and sometimes that can get lonely. So I would hop in my car, and head down the block to Whole Foods. Where I buy my dark chocolate bars. I used to drink. Margaritas come to mind. The tequila sure to alter my mood for the better, at first. That usually ended up with me losing things. Like my car in the parking lot. My virginity. A marriage. And almost, my mind. Chocolate is way better. But giving out stars there to Debra Hanigan and the crew, was the BEST high and I knew where my car and my mind were when I left! I swear Debra lived under the counter at register 5. She was ALWAYS there. Smiling and coaching me on the best chocolates to try.
I did have to hunt down Sara Cunningham though. As her co workers started to accumulate stars on their nametags, she was not on the front lines and therefore had yet to get a star. So like Allen Funt of “Candid Camera”, I gathered intel as to what aisle were the Sara Cunninghams on, tracked her down and gave her several stars to make up for the lack.
Since March 2020, my stargiving has greatly reduced for obvious reasons. Frankly, I was afraid to touch someone in order to hand them a star. I pick up my groceries curbside at WalMart and those people are busting ass busy as the world has a new order for safe procurement of food goods. But I found a way. I would put the star on the edge of my side view mirror and they would take it from there. And I got that smile and enthusiasm in their voice as they thanked me.
I spent all of February alone in Florida. Giving out stars there gave me a sense of community. Of course, there was a woman named Star at the grocery store there!
I will leave you with my favorite story. As I was leaving my meeting place one night where I go for spiritual food, there is much going on at the church where we meet. The Tulsa based program of Women In Recovery was hosting their graduation at the same church. Women in Recovery (WIR) is an intensive outpatient alternative for eligible women facing long prison sentences for non-violent drug-related offenses. Operated in partnership with the George Kaiser Family Foundation, WIR works closely with the criminal justice system and various community partners to ensure program participants receive supervision, substance abuse and mental health treatment, education, workforce readiness training and family reunification services.
The church parking lot was full for their graduation, so I had to park a few blocks away in the neighborhood. As I walked back, there were about five or six women who were sitting and standing around the bus stop. I was moved to give stars, which I did, seeing that same sparkle and shine in their eyes. My feet did not touch the ground the rest of the way to my car.
Fast forward a few months, and I am checking out at a Dollar Store where I had never been before. It was my second Dollar Store stop to pick up the remaining glass star shaped dishes to make 20 total, for centerpieces that I was making for a big dinner at my meeting place. When I gave the girl a star, her face lit up. “You gave me one already!” Puzzled, I replied, “I have never been in this store before.” Not taking no for an answer, the young woman excitedly grabbed her key chain, revealing a key tag with the letters NA on it. And over that was a well worn silver star. “I graduated from Women In Recovery six months ago! You gave me this at the bus stop! I have nine months clean!”
You never know what a random act of kindness can do for a person. I know what it does for the actor. It keeps me going at times. And without fail, it always lifts MY mood for doing it.