Monday, September 2, 2013

Tools for the Journey #30 - Brick Walls

The brick walls are there for a reason.
The brick walls are not there to keep us out;
the brick walls are there to give us a chance to show
how badly we want something.
- Randy Pausch

Blog post #30 seems about as good a time as any to address this under appreciated and misunderstood Tool for the Journey. I'll admit I didn't begin to grasp the potential when faced with Life's strategically placed brick walls until I read the above quote by Randy Pausch.

I was cruising through life like any other person and far too often bumping into the dreaded brick walls. One moment the brick wall du jour was just a frustrating barrier to where I wanted to go, and the next instant...BAM! Poof! Ta Da! A moment of crystalline-clarity and a paradigm shift thanks to Professor Pausch! This Tool for the Journey goes to show you never know where or when a new tool will be presented to you.

Randolph Frederick "Randy" Pausch (October 23, 1960 – July 25, 2008) was an American professor of computer science and human-computer interaction and design at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Pausch learned he had pancreatic cancer in September 2006, and in August 2007 he was given a terminal diagnosis: "3 to 6 months of good health left". He gave an upbeat lecture titled "The Last Lecture: Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams" on September 18, 2007, at Carnegie Mellon, which became a popular YouTube video. He then co-authored a book called The Last Lecture on the same theme, which became a New York Times best-seller. Pausch died of complications from pancreatic cancer on July 25, 2008. (Wikipedia)

The day I first heard The Last Lecture the weight of a ton of bricks was lifted off my shoulders. I'd been banging in to brick walls with frustration and fully believed they were there specifically to keep me out of where I wanted to go - or at the very least to slow my progress down considerably. It was Professor Pausch's quote which paradigm-shifted everything for me with regards to these red-brick-barriers.

A paradigm shift provides us new eyes on an old problem. The new paradigm isn't something we slog towards and figure out over time, but is rather a instantaneous shift of consciousness past which there's no going back. It's not more knowledge as much as new knowing; once seen it can't be unseen.

Previously brick walls were seen as purely negative; they were to be despised, resisted and sometimes even walked away from even if it did mean turning away from a goal or destination I was passionate about. Randy Pausch changed all of this for me. Talk about an alchemist! He turned the lead of terminal cancer into precious 'gold' which he left behind for us to make use of if we would just open our hearts and minds to The Last Lecture.

We all have our loads to burden, but we get a choice on how we bear our load and how we deal with adversity. Will we sing in the lifeboats or complain and make the journey miserable for ourselves and those traveling with us? Will we brave the brick walls we encounter or turn away because it's too difficult to find a way over the top or around or through?

For me these 'news eyes' are the secret. This Pausch-paradigm-shift has given me a new frame of reference, a way of looking at the problem which I didn't have previously. My friend, Erik Weihenmayer talks about how we can choose to use adversity as fuel. He asserts we don't succeed in spite of our adversity, but rather because of it. I think Professor Pausch would have liked this idea.

As I stand here before my present brick wall I've got my red cape on and I'm electing to use my new eyes. I'm not resisting the brick wall, nor am I pounding my fists (or my head) against it or trying fruitlessly to push it down. Am I uncertain how to get to the other side? You bet! Does it seem unmovable, impenetrable? Absolutely. But the good news is I'm still here, I'm figuring it out and I'm not giving up whereas before this is the point at which I might have stopped. Now in the back of my mind I hear Professor Prausch telling me this barrier is only here to give me the chance to show how badly I want what is on the other side. The new paradigm empowers and encourages me to find a way to scale this wall or blast through it or take it down brick by brick if necessary; whatever it takes. I can take this wall. I'm up to the challenge.

If you need to drive a nail and you have a hammer then it's a pretty simple task because you have the right tool for the job. However, if you have a nail but no hammer this simple task becomes a problem which is difficult to solve. Thus, having the right tool for the job makes all the difference. Randy Pausch provided me with the right tool for the job of dealing with brick walls and it is a valued tool for my journey.

I can't leap tall buildings or brick walls in a single bound just yet, but I'm working on it and getting better every time I try. OK, I'm not saying I'm Wonder Woman, I'm just saying no one has ever seen us in the same room together! (wink)

Here's to the journey!

“The questions are always more important than the answers.”
- Randy Pausch

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Tool for the Journey #29 - Comfortable in my skin

In our culture, age doesn't represent wisdom
it represents deterioration. That's 
infuriating, really.
- Debra Winger

I turned fifty years old in July and its taken me a some time to pull my thoughts together about this tool for the journey. I'm cognizant that 'I've reached the halfway mark in a hundred year life' and I'm hoping there really are still as many years ahead of me as are now behind me.

As I stood before the cake filled with so many candles and wishes, my impulse was to look back rather than forward. I've traveled a long way and I've got plenty of dust on my boots from my travels and adventures and now it was time to take stock of my journey so far.

My past is present for me like so many shining coins at the bottom of a fountain. There's a lovely patina on these memories from all they've weathered on the adventure with me. It's a funny thing about memories - they get sweeter with time as the rough edges wear down and as we gain perspective and wisdom along the roads we travel.

Some memories are visual - you can see them crystal clear in your mind's eye, others are visceral and some sensual as they stir up our senses and transport us in a flash to some distant point in our past. There's a texture and value to these memory-coins I carry, and I like to pull them out and hold them up to the light once in awhile. They provide comfort just like looking at photos of home when away on a long voyage.

I told a friend recently it seems to me fifty is the time to tell the truth - at least to oneself. Time to look back, assess and be honest so perhaps the road ahead might be less bumpy. It's my hope this looking back will help me to figure out going forward how to keep my eyes open even through the scary bits. I've spent too much time closing my eyes through the scary parts of my life and as a result I've missed some things I wish I hadn't.

My past is standing at my shoulder now urging me to be courageous - to keep my eyes open as I look back and also forward. Clearly something must 'die' in me, or at least I must let something go, in order for over-fifty-me to burn more brightly on the road a head. There is both glorious light and also darkness behind me, and I know there will be more darkness ahead (as well as light) thus, whatever I can do to illuminate the path going forward seems worth doing even if it's a bit scary.

This assiduous analysis I'm undertaking may seem self-indulgent. However, there is treasure here at fifty which I don't want to miss. Some I see clearly, some I can only sense but I know it's here even if I can only see it out of the corner of my eye. I've slowed down so I can discover the 'gold' here and take in the view from this particularly hard-won vista.

When I was younger I had more of a tendency to listen to external voices, but now my own inner voice has center stage (thankfully). I've finally accepted that I'm acoustic not electric - always have been and I like it this way. I used to fight it but finally, blessedly I am comfortable in my own skin and I'm less judgmental of my flaws and faults; more patient with myself and others.

Have I made mistakes along the way? You bet! Do I have regrets? Yes. Have I hurt people I love dearly? Unfortunately. Would I go back and do some things over if I could? Without a doubt and without a moment's hesitation. I'd un-say hurtful words and un-break hearts. I'd worry less about what the world was thinking and climb out on the skinny branches far more. I'd  dare more and sing more and speak my mind more. I'd read more and share more and remember to be grateful more. I'd get outdoors and look at the sky more and worry far less about chores. I'd take more chances and I'd work harder to stay naive and full of hope in spite of the hard blows. I'd remember that every single moment is a creation and I'd create more.

For my 50th birthday I'm gathering up my regrets and my mistakes and letting them go like helium balloons into a bright sky. I don't have room for them on my journey going forward because I plan to travel light and these things have been weighing me down. My first husband and most precious friend, Douglas taught me about the importance of traveling light. He also taught me how to trust myself and ultimately gave me the keys to how to be comfortable in my own skin. I owe Douglas, and many other wise-souls I've met along the way, a debt of gratitude for being willing to be my teachers even when I was a reluctant student. It is through their loving tutelage that I arrived safely to my fiftieth birthday.

As I sit here tonight quietly watching the sun head off for places west somewhere, I'm overwhelmed with gratitude for my journey and the people who I've been blessed enough to share it with. My life is richly textured and has an acoustic melody I know by heart thanks to the people I'm blessed enough to call my friends.

As for the road ahead - I expect big changes and no doubt some steep hills, but I also expect joy - lots and lots of joy.  So, my most sincere birthday wish is no matter how many bends in the road - nor how frightening it might be in the dark times - I may be bold and courageous as I walk forward with my eyes wide open (even through the scary bits!)

Here's to the journey and the next fifty years!

The wound is
the place 
where the light
enters you!

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Tool for the Journey #28 - Wing-Prints

Lately I've been thinking a lot about impact; about what impacts me and about what impact I have on the world around me. These ponderings bring me back to when, as a child, my mother told me about something called, the Butterfly Effect.

Wikipedia defines the ‘Butterfly Effect’ in this way:

In chaos theory, the butterfly effect is the sensitive dependence on initial conditions, where a small change at one place in a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences to a later state. The name of the effect, coined by Edward Lorenz, is derived from the theoretical example of a hurricane's formation being contingent on whether or not a distant butterfly had flapped its wings several weeks before.

This tool is meant to have us consider our own Butterfly Effect and our 'wing-prints'. It's about what we give back to Life, to the Earth and to our fellow travelers. It's also about what we must cut away (or Life must to cut away) to reveal what is hidden beneath the surface of us in order to lighten us up. I love the butterfly metaphor because it represents transformation in its truest form. Once you enter the chrysalis there is no going backward. 

If you examine the Chinese paper-cut image above you'll see a beautiful example of the alteration of a single sheet of plain red paper into a stunning butterfly. The person doing the cutting does not mourn the paper which was cut away, but rather enjoys what's revealed in its absence. Life does this with us - it cuts away what doesn't belong, what's weighing us down (if we let it) so we might be light enough to fly, and it doesn't mourn what was cut away but celebrates instead what is revealed, just as Michelangelo didn't mourn the marble dust at his feet.

"I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free." -Michelangelo

Our  ecological "footprint" is a measure of our human demand on the Earth's ecosystems. Our footprint is the impact we leave physically on the planet - .it's what we are taking from the world as we travel.Our 'wing-print' is what we're giving back; the less visible impressions and generous-impact we have on our world, and more importantly on each other as we journey through this life.

What is my 'Butterfly Effect'? What hurricanes of goodness might be caused by the beating of my wings? What wing-prints do I leave behind as I travel and what sort of impact do they leave in my wake? Life knows things we don't - it sees the entire map, whereas we tend to focus on the bumps in the road. Yes, there are times when there is barely enough light to see by, yet whether in lightness or dark we still make positive or negative impacts with the beating of our wings by the choices we make. For better or worse we do leave wing-prints.

My soul-brother and friend, Randall Williams had this to say about it:
"We do little things all the time, and mostly never see how they affect the world around us. But they matter in ways we may never know. Please keep doing what you're doing - especially the stuff you put your heart and soul into. Our world needs this a whole bunch."

'Our world needs this' yet life is busy, bills need to get paid, our kids need to be fed and we have to go to work each day. So perhaps there isn't a lot of extra time to sit pondering our wing-prints on a day-to-day basis. However, even when we are not paying attention, even when we are being swallowed by the minutia of life, we're still making our mark and leaving our wing-prints; we get to choose whether to leave them consciously or unconsciously.

Personally my biggest fear is that I won't be brave, or I'll 'fall asleep and miss my life' and in so doing, will leave reckless or damaging wing-prints. Thus, I work to be courageous and stay awake at all costs. I work to keep my eyes open even through the scary bits because I want my journey to be an act of devotion which translates into leaving affirming, positive, powerful wing-prints in spite of the bumps in the road.

One isn't necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential. Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can't be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest.”  
– Maya Angelou

So how do we do this? How do we find the courage to leave positive wing-prints? The secret, I believe, is in the exhale. If you're going to jump off a high cliff into a deep pool of water what do you do first? You inhale - you hold your breath, you maybe even close your eyes really tight, and you jump! But after you make the leap you must (at some point) exhale into what you've chosen. Once you leap you must commit to where you're headed. Once you've reached the end of the runway you're supposed to fly and commit to your wings and the sky ahead of you. You can't crawl back into the chrysalis. 

One thing I know to be true after nearly 50 years on this earth - the human heart has a tremendous capacity to light up the world around it. Through us love flows out into the world, and our wing-prints, our Butterfly Effect does cause ripples in wider circles than we may ever see or know. Thus, for me at least, I strive to be mindful of my impact and my wing-prints; of what I am taking, what I am giving back and what I am paying forward. Because what good are feet and wings (and hearts) if we don't use them?

There are things our wings know which we do not. A butterfly emerges from her chrysalis never having flown before...yet once her wings are unfolded and dry, she flies! Trust your wings! Take flight and stay mindful of your wing-prints because the slightest flutter of your wings could change the world!

Here's to the view from the air!

“The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough.” 
 ~Rabindranath Tagore

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Tool for the Journey #27 - Not Broken

This 'Not Broken' tool for the journey is of particular importance to me. I've thought a long time about how to share this because I want it to be translatable and useful for others as it has been to me.

Let's face it - Life can and does knock us down on our journey. Yes, there are myriad small stumbles which we pick ourselves up from, dust ourselves off and recover from quickly enough. But then again Life has the capacity to 'knock the wind right out of us' in the 'your life is never gonna be the same' sorts of ways. From these places it can be a challenge to find our way back to feeling whole again, to the place where we are 'not broken'.

When I lived in Japan many years ago I learned about the art of kintsukuroi. The art and technique called kintsukuroi is the mending of broken ceramics with gold or silver powder combined with resin. It is a difficult and intensive process requiring no small amount of skill, but when the broken item is fixed, it is adorned with veins of precious metal and is thus made even more beautiful than it was originally. The metaphor here is obvious.

As humans traveling Life's path we get mental, physical and emotional scars which could leave us feeling broken; or if mended in more traditional ways perhaps leave us feeling less 'beautiful' than we once were.

In our modern 'throw away' society we tend to toss out the things that break. We replace rather than repair. We despise flaws in ourselves and others. We want 'flawlessness'. But if we go back just a few generations to our parents, grandparents or great-grandparents we happen upon times where old things were reused or made into new, useful things. We find repairs which lasted and items not cast aside because of a chip or a break or because they became faded.

I'm interested in these past treasures I've found in my great-grandmother's cupboards and in my grandfather's tool-shed.  These items are metaphorical for me, just as the kintsukuroi bowls I saw in Japan - they were lovingly repaired and thus still used and still useful even many years later. They are highly valued over newer, prettier versions of the same.

For me the Western version of kintsukuroi can be summed up in this quote from The Velveteen Rabbit:


“Real isn't how you are made,' said the Skin Horse. 'It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.'

'Does it hurt?' asked the Rabbit.

'Sometimes,' said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. 'When you are Real you don't mind being hurt.'

'Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,' he asked, 'or bit by bit?'

'It doesn't happen all at once,' said the Skin Horse. 'You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand.” 
- Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit


The toys that beome 'real' are not beautiful anymore in the 'brand new' sort of way, but they are also not broken. They are shabby and worn and blessedly loved to pieces. They are irreplaceable. They are the treasures of  childhood.  Just as with a kintsukuroi repaired bowl - the belief is the object is more valuable and beautiful with its history revealed. The breaks, the cracks, the imperfections are 'filled with gold' - and no matter how many imperfections -they are celebrated not hidden!

Too often we try to repair broken things by concealing the repair and with only the hope of making it 'as good as new'. This, in humans, unfortunately can translate to trying desperately to appear 'normal' again especially after a serious injury. However, there is an alternative; there is the possibility of becoming even better than new! With a kintsugi repaired tea cup - the point is it is repaired. It doen't change the fact there was a break or a crack but it renders this fact's NOT BROKEN anymore, it is 'real', it is loved,  and it is more beautiful for having been broken.

I'll be turning 50 years old this summer and I am definitely 'real'. Nothing hidden here. I'm a bit shabby around the edges, my eyes don't work as good as they used to, I can't run as fast as I used to and there are a few more wrinkles and a few more stains on the fabric of me. I have some cracks and even some breaks which thankfully have been 'filled with gold' by the people who love me. 

I've arrived at the point on my life-journey where I can see I'm more valuable and more beautiful for having my history revealed.  I celebrate the evidence of my survival. I laugh more, cry less, give more, take less. I'm tougher than I used to be and the little things, the proverbial skinned knees, just don't bother me any longer.
I'm more at peace with myself and even the cracks in my heart are now filled with the gold and silver resin of wisdom gained on my travels.

We all get broken along the way - this is a given and is to be expected. However, I'm far more interested in how we get back to being 'not broken'. How we fill ourselves up with gold and how we come to the place where we know in our hearts that being 'real' is more important and more valuable than being seemingly flawless. 

These days and however many days are still ahead of me will be spent in the company of all the 'real' people I can find, all the not broken-kinstukuroi mended travelers. We are so much more beautiful, more valuable for our flaws, our wrinkles, our tattered edges; and especially with the broken bits of us mended and shining brightly with the gold and silver 'resin' of the love and wisdom gathered along the way.

I cannot say it better than the Skin Horse:

"... by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand.”  

Yes indeed! We can never be ugly except to people who do not understand! And therein lies the secret!

Blessings on your journey to 'Real', patience on the road back to 'Not Broken'.

In-Joy and Gratitude,

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Tools for the Journey #26 - Erik's Gift

Erik Weihenmayer with my kids in 2009

What’s within you is stronger than what is in your way. – Erik Weihenmayer


By Cheryl Cutting Page

“Reach!” Erik called down to Alia

“But I’m afraid,” she called back.

“Maybe you’re afraid for the wrong reason,” he hollered patiently, and smiled down at

her. “You’ll never know what you can touch unless you reach!”

Alia took a deep breath, mustered all of her courage and reached out towards Erik; when

their hands met he pulled her the rest of the way up onto the wide ledge.

Most of the other mountaineers in their group kept climbing, but Erik and his friend Jeff

sat down with Alia and waited while she caught her breath.

The view from this far up the mountain was spectacular but Alia couldn’t appreciate the

beauty because she was too busy talking about how difficult and scary it was to get there.

Erik sat quietly listening to her for a while before he finally spoke.

“Whether you are climbing this mountain, or climbing the mountain of your life, you

still have to reach out and take risks to get to the summit.

The good news is the view from the peak will be even more spectacular because you

were willing to challenge yourself to get there.”

“But what if I fall?” She asked seriously.

“We all fall sometimes,” was Erik’s reply.  “But if we learn something each time we fall

we can use the lessons to help us the next time we reach out.  Even more importantly

though is to surround ourselves with good people. If we do, they will be there to help us

when we stumble; just like you, Jeff and I are roped together on this climb to help keep

each other safe. Then if we fall we won’t fall as far.”

Alia sat quietly thinking about Erik’s words for a long time. It occurred to her she was

climbing a mountain and a blind man who had climbed all of the tallest mountains in the

whole-wide-world was helping her to do it, so he probably knows what he’s talking


“How old were you when you lost your sight?” Alia asked, hoping the question wasn’t


“Thirteen,” replied Erik.

“THIRTEEN years old?!” Alia exclaimed. “That’s just a little bit older than I am now!

 But you still climb mountains, kayak big rivers, go paragliding, skiing and travel on

adventures all over the world!”

“Alia,” Erik answered patiently, “I lost my sight, but not my vision of what I want to

do with my life.”

She thought about this as she tossed pebbles off the ledge and watched them tumble

towards the valley below, then she told him:

“My friend, Bucky, taught me about finding my vision and how important it is.”

“He’s right,” Erik said. “If you have a clear vision it’s easier to make brave choices to

reach where you want to go.”

“How did you find your vision?”  Alia asked.

“Well, losing my sight actually helped me find it,” said Erik with a smile.

“You’re kidding, right?” She liked how she could talk with him in the same easy way

she talked to her big brother.

“No, really,” he replied.  “We each have a choice to let adversity stop us or motivate us; 

I decided to let my challenges motivate me.”

“What do you mean?” Alia asked looking puzzled.

“As we climb the mountain of life there will be tough times along the way,” Erik

told her. “We don’t get a choice about having difficult times but we do get to choose

whether our challenges will make us give up our vision or if we’ll find a way to use them

to help us move forward.”

“But I’m just a kid,” Alia replied. “It’s harder when you’re a kid.”

“Well, if you think you won’t make it to the top of the mountain then you probably

won’t,” Erik replied. “The good news is you have another option; you can look for

possibilities instead, and when you do you’ll usually find them.

“How do you do it?” Alia wanted to know.

“If you focus with your eyes on how difficult something is then all you’ll see is

obstacles,” he said. “But if you look from your heart for what might be possible in spite

of the challenges then everything changes.”

She stood and turned to look up the mountain at the steep climb still ahead of them. It

looked difficult and scary but she was beginning to understand what Erik was talking


 “So, if I look with my eyes I’ll only see what is in front of me, but if I look with

my heart I’ll see what might be possible?”  Alia asked.

“Exactly,” he said.  “This strategy won’t guarantee you’ll always get it right the first

time, but if you change the way you think about adversity you’ll have fewer challenges

and a better chance of success.

“Bucky taught me challenges can be good teachers,” said Alia.  “He also said if my

vision is clear my journey will be easier, but why do you think this is?” she asked Erik.

“Because if your vision is clear you can see what you’re reaching for,” he replied.

“So what now?  Where do I go from here?” she asked her friend.

“Just keep climbing, Alia. Find your vision and reach for it!” Erik told her.

“But how do I know what to reach for?” asked Alia.

This was Erik’s reply:

”Reach inside yourself for the strength you’ll need to climb.

Reach over obstacles as they arise.

Reach up to what is possible even when it seems impossible.

Reach out to the those around you for support on your expedition because your best

chance for success is to team up with other good people along the way. If you are willing

to do all of this then you’ll reach your way up to an extraordinary life.”

“Wow, Erik!” said Alia. “Do you really think I can do all of that?”

“I’m certain you can,” he assured her.

“Well it helps to know I don’t have climb alone.” she said thoughtfully.

“You are definitely not alone,” he replied with a big smile.

With these final words, she reached out her hand to him, and they continued their climb

up the mountain with Erik’s friend, Jeff guiding them both. Roped up and working

together they all reached the summit in the bright of the noonday sun.

As Alia stood looking out at the vastness before her she realized Erik was right – the

view was more spectacular from the peak of the mountain and it was worth the

challenges it took to get here.
                                                         The End

© Cheryl Cutting Page 2012

Dear Reader,

     This is a fictional story about a real gift of wisdom I received from my friend,

Erik Weihenmayer. I hope you enjoyed reading this gift as much as I enjoyed sharing it

with you. Remember Erik’s advice: reach out every chance you get, stay open and learn

to look with your heart so you can truly see all the wonderful possibilities awaiting you

on your journey.

Your friend,


Erik Weihenmayer

Erik was not born blind; he was born with a condition which had him gradually lose his

eye sight.  Erik decided early on he would not let blindness stop him from living a

fulfilling life.  Despite losing his sight at age 13, Erik has become an accomplished

mountaineer, adventurer and humanitarian.

On May 25, 2001 Erik became the only blind man in history to reach the summit of the

world’s highest peak—Mount Everest.  In August of 2008, he completed his quest to

climb all of the Seven Summits – the tallest peaks on each of the seven continents,

joining only 150 mountaineers who have ever accomplished this feat.

In addition to being a world-class athlete, Erik is also a best-selling author and public

speaker. Erik is an ordinary man with an extraordinary vision of what is possible if we

reach for our dreams.  Erik’s accomplishments demonstrate how one does not need to

have perfect eyesight to have the vision necessary to achieve great things.

To learn more about Erik you can visit his website:

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Tool for the Journey #25 - Throwing Stars

Not all stars belong to the sky! - Unknown

JEFF’S GIFT: Throwing Stars

By Cheryl Cutting Page

“Being of service doesn’t have to mean doing something big,” said Jeff.

“But with so much need in the world – how can we possibly make a difference if we

don’t do something big?” Alia wanted to know.

“That’s a great question and it reminds me of a story,” he replied.

As they sat on the beach scrunching their toes in the warm sand, Jeff shared this story:

Early one morning a man was walking along the beach. The sun was shining and it

was a beautiful day. Off in the distance he could see a girl going back and forth

between the beach and the surf’s edge. Back and forth she went again and again.

As the man approached he could see there were hundreds of starfish stranded on

the sand as a result of a storm the night before, and the girl was tossing them one by

one back into the surf.

“Young lady,” he asked, “why are you throwing starfish into the sea?”

“The sun is up, the tide is going out, and if I don’t throw them back they will die,”

she said.

“But don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and stranded starfish all

along it? You cannot possibly make a difference.” He replied.

The girl listened politely, paused and then bent down, picked up another starfish

and gently threw it back into the ocean. She then turned back to the man and said

with a smile, “I sure made a difference for that one!”

“Did the girl in the story make a difference for each starfish she threw back into the sea?”

Jeff asked.

“Absolutely!” replied Alia.

“Do you think any of those starfish are ever going to come back and thank her for saving

their lives? Or maybe they’ll send her a nice note in the mail expressing their

appreciation?” Jeff teased with a gleam in his eye.

Alia laughed at the silly thought of getting a card in the mail from a starfish. “No, I’m

pretty sure they won’t,” she said with a smile.

“So, if we don’t serve others for the gratitude and we don’t do it for the glory, then why

do it?” He asked her.

Letting sand sift through her fingers, Alia thought about the question. “Because we can

and because it’s a good thing to help people,” she replied.

“That’s certainly part of the answer, but there’s a difference between helping and

serving,” said Jeff. “If I help you then in some way I see you as less able than I am. But if

I serve you then we’re equals who simply have different abilities and resources.”

Alia was confused and it showed in the look on her face.

Jeff thought for a moment then picked up a piece of driftwood and drew two candles in

the sand.

“There’s an old saying which says:

A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle

“If we’re both in the dark and both have candles but my candle has a flame and yours

doesn’t, then I can serve you by lighting your candle, right?” asked Jeff.

“Right,” Alia replied hesitantly.

 “However it doesn’t mean you’re any less than me just because you don’t have a

candle with a flame. And if I light your candle then what is my reward?”

Alia jumped up smiling and said, “I know! More light!”

“Exactly! Good job!” Jeff cheered.

“So by serving others we can light up the world and also leave our mark in some way,

right?” Alia asked. She liked the idea of making a difference even though she was still

just a kid.

Jeff got up, wiped sand from his shorts and walked a little ways leaving footprints on the

beach behind him. When he turned around he said,

 “Yes, Alia, being of service is like leaving footprints in the sand. Our footprints are the

result of our actions but quickly fade away, however as we make our imprints we also

carry some of the sand away with us, right?”

“Right,” she replied.

“So if we spend time lighting candles and throwing starfish back into the sea then even

such small gestures can make our ‘footprints’ meaningful and we get to carry some of

the good away with us too,” he continued.

“I sort of understand what you mean,” she told him.

“The footprints the girl made while tossing starfish into the sea faded as the waves

washed up on shore, erasing any sign she had ever been there. But the difference she

made in the lives of those starfish is what remains. Isn’t that cool?” Jeff asked as he lay

back down on the sand and closed his eyes.

“Yes, it’s very cool, but what do I have to give?” Alia asked. “I’m just a kid.”

While she waited for Jeff’s reply Alia twirled back and forth making swishy footprints in

the damp sand. When she stopped to inspect her impressions the sun went behind a dark

cloud; this made her shiver just a bit as the chilly sea water lapped at her feet and began

to erase her footprints.

With his eyes still closed Jeff finally answered: “The girl in the story was just a kid too

yet she made a difference by the tiny act of tossing starfish back into the sea. Maybe she

gave us the secret: if we walk through life throwing stars - if we just do little good deeds

here and there along the way  - this can add up to making a big difference one small step

at a time.

“I like her idea! I want to be a star-thrower too!” Alia announced as she plopped herself

back down on the sand. “

“Ok, with your star-thrower goal in mind the next question is who do you want to travel

with?” Jeff asked as he sat back up to look at her. “Good travel companions make all the

difference, and our truest friends are lighthouse beacons on our journey.”

“What’s a lighthouse beacon,” asked Alia.

Pointing down the beach in the direction of the old lighthouse, Jeff explained:

“A lighthouse beacon is the light that shines out over the waters at night to warn ships of

treacherous reefs and rocks; the beacon keeps ships out of harm's way and guides them

home to a safe harbor.”

They sat together quietly for a while watching the waves, then Jeff continued:

“Choosing to live a life of service means there will be plenty of joys, but there will also

be challenges and even some treacherous reefs and rocks. It’s during those times you

must allow others to serve you, be a beacon for you; which is why it is vital to have true

and trusted travel companions.”

Alia dug her toes deeper into the sand and stared quietly out at the horizon for a

long time. Jeff was patient, giving her time to think about all he had said.

As the sun finally broke through the clouds and covered the beach in rays of golden light,

the answer she had been searching for seemed to burst into Alia’s mind at the same time.

“So if I’m going to be a true star-thrower then there will be times I am the thrower and

other times when I am the star…is that right?” she asked excitedly.

“Yes, that’s exactly right, Alia. To truly be of service we must learn to be good at giving

and receiving,” said Jeff.

As the sun sank slowly into the sea they began their walk back up the beach.

“Alia, you’re on the threshold of a grand adventure, but you can only make the journey

one step at a time,” he said. “Be curious, take risks, listen to your heart and give

everything you do your best shot. Try to do this in every facet of your life then watch to

see what amazing things happen. And if you get lost along the way always turn back to

the stars.

“Thanks Jeff. I learned a lot today and I’m excited to become a star-thrower just like

you,” she said and then happily skipped the rest of the way home.

That night as she lay in her bed, Alia had a vision of millions of stars dancing in her

head…and just as she was drifting off to sleep she tossed the first one back into the sea.

The End

© Cheryl Cutting Page 2012


Dear Reader,

This is a fictional story about an actual gift I received from Jeff Evans. I hope you

enjoyed reading about this gift as much as I have enjoyed sharing it with you. Remember

what Jeff said to Alia: Listen to your heart, give everything you do your best shot and

look for ways to be a star thrower along the way! If you do this then amazing things are

sure to happen!

Your friend,


Jeff Evans

By all accounts, Jeff Evans is just a regular guy; he is a down-to-earth country boy who could live next door to you and is about as nice and unassuming a person as you’d ever hope to meet.

That being said, Jeff is also an acclaimed adventurer, speaker, author and world-class mountaineer and climbing guide who has chosen to live a life of service. It is difficult to put into words the magnitude of Jeff’s willingness to sacrifice in order to be of service to others.

Jeff can be captivating and inspiring, but in the most down-home sort of way, and his slight southern accent puts you at ease as he dances you towards the answers to questions you may have. Like cool lemonade on a hot summer day – Jeff both refreshes us and slows us down so we can see more clearly what living a life of service truly means. He is a role model for me and this story was my attempt to give him a gift in return for the gifts he has given me.

You can learn more about Jeff and his adventures at:

*The Star Thrower story told by Jeff is credited to Loren C. Eiseley (1907–1977), although it is a variation on the original.