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Starfish in the short run

Bottom line, I am a predicamentalist. (Pree-dick-uh-ment-uh-list — It’s got a rhythm to it.)

By this I mean that in contrast to most people’s belief that we have a worldwide set of "problems to be solved," I believe we now live within a worldwide predicament. A predicament, by my definition, has no solution: It simply is. And our worldwide predicament is a big IS, indeed. Global warming is real and threatens to result in the extinction of humans as a species.

Being an either/or kind of guy, I had assumed that if I, as an individual — or even as part of a group — couldn’t solve some big problem, there was no point to trying. I would do nothing.

Unconsciously, I assumed I would simply go on living my life in a slowly diminishing business-as-usual way. At the same time, consciously, I would remain joyful, enthusiastic and saying yes to whatever showed up. I would do only what truly pleased me to do.

If it pleased me to write of the predicament, I would do that. And I have.

Also, I have advocated that others do what they love doing, and if it is being an activist, by all means do that. But don't do it out of a sense of obligation. And don't do it out of a sense that it will make a difference. I often speak my favorite metaphor — If you say it is yours to rearrange the deck chairs of the Titanic, arrange the hell out of them!

It was OK for me to tell others that. But I didn't always self-apply it. Until I read a long-forgotten piece that abruptly opened a third possibility.

The boy picked up the tide-stranded starfish and threw each back into the water. His mother says, “You know, sweetheart, that in the long run, that’s not really going to make any difference.”

"Yeah, Mom, I know, but it makes a difference to this starfish."

Ah, a third path: The Path of Short Run. Or, perhaps — the Path of the Starfish-Thrower.

Like that child, I find myself looking at what is in front of me that might make a short-run difference — perhaps relieving a little suffering here or a worry there; listening to one person in despair; giving 10 bucks here, 20 there to support others who support others; perhaps something as small as carrying out the trash without being asked; smoothing her pillow.

This seems like the path of kindness, the path of compassion, doesn’t it? Maybe we could even think of it as the Elder Path.

Starfish-boy has gotten to me. In a sense, I am Starfish-Boy. That thought makes me smile. Perhaps you, with me, might also take the path of the Starfish-Thrower?

Dr. Harvey Austin is a retired plastic surgeon. He lived in Medford and was an active member of the Ashland Elders Lodge. He wrote an international bestseller, “Elders Rock! Don’t Just Get Older: Become an Elder.” He and his wife, Arleen, now live in Mystic, Connecticut. Reach him at HarveyWAustin@yahoo.com. Email 600- to 700-word articles on all aspects of inner peace to Sally McKirgan at innerpeaceforyou@outlook.com.