At the beginning of 2019, I rejoined society and my primary sober support group after a year of crippling grief and depression at the ending of my 24 year marriage had caused me to be home bound. I was still healing and the light of the world was bright. I left my house with chronic pain in my neck and hips and some lingering depression in tow when I was struck with a random idea for a way to find some comfort in the midst of my own healing. The idea, which I believe came from whatever or whoever made me, was 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.
In many cases, I would post to Facebook proof of my “starring” under the heading of “More Stars For Stars.” I just found myself telling this story to a friend, so I thought I would share it with you.
It was a warm spring night in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I was leaving the church basement after my sober support group. The parking lot was overflowing because 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.I had to park a few blocks away in the neighborhood.
As I walked back to my car, there were about five or six women who were at the bus stop, sitting and standing in the thick green fescue grass. I was moved to give stars, which I did, seeing that same sparkle and shine in their eyes as was in the little blue and green foil stickers on my fingertips as they transferred over to big smiling faces. My feet did not touch the ground the rest of the way to my car. There is more to this story, so keep reading, unless you don’t want one of those goosebumpy moments when you can’t help but to say “Awwww!” out loud.
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. In many cases, the stars would land on a cheekbone or forehead.
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.
The next photodump is of friends, co workers and service people 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. They all have a star on them, either on their face, hand or clothing. Service people seem to be the most moved by being acknowledged. I think they often feel unseen.
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. That was all I could do for the year I was homebound. 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 used to go to McDonald’s every week for happy meals that I got 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 lifted 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.
I spent all of February 2020 solo in Destin, Florida speculating whether moving here would be good for me. (I did. And it is.) Giving out stars as a stranger in a strange place gave me a sense of community. Of course, there was a woman named Star at the grocery store there!
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.
Okay, here it is. The end to the story I started at the beginning. I did this because, and my daughter could recount many Christmases as evidence to the fact that I like to save the best for last. And make the recipient wait. As long as I can.
It was October, 2019, several months after I gave out stars to the Women In Recovery who were standing at the bus stop outside the church. I was 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 anniversary dinner at my sober meeting place at that same church to be held at a later date. As the girl was ringing me up, I got out my sheet of stars and peeled one off for her. “You gave me one already!” She said, as I giddily stuck my finger towards her. 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 (for Narcotics Anonymous) on it. And over the NA symbol was a well worn silver star. “I graduated from Women In Recovery six months ago! You gave me this star 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 giver. It keeps me going at times. And without fail, it always lifts MY mood for doing it.
(Parting shots and warm fuzzy memories follow here.)
(Stars for stars…)