The general rule at the Monterey Bay Aquarium is not to give animals personal names. But we couldn’t resist with “Stumpy.”
The little ochre sea star had only one of its five arms left, after an “incident” with a sea otter (ie lunch.) But slowly, over the course of a whole year, Stumpy grew back all four arms and was restored to its original five-armed beauty. Stumpy lived in the Touch Pool Exhibit and we touched Stumpy gently and cheered it on every day – Keep growing! You can do it! (Luckily, no otters in that exhibit.)
(I’m rerunning this column from a few years ago because we had a Stumpy incident in our own house this week involving Ron and the table saw. Keep reading to learn the outcome, but suffice it to say, our human bodies do not recreate/restore the way sea stars do, so Ron has a shorter thumb than he used to…..and it will never grow back.)
Stumpy could keep growing. Sea stars can completely regenerate arms bitten off, using the cells in their central disk. Some species can even intentionally release an arm, let it go to the predator, to save the rest of its body, and then grow back a new one.
(This photo of a six legged star is not Stumpy, obviously, but you get the idea.)
So, Gospel According to Sea Stars:
-Regeneration is actually pretty common in nature – we can donate half our liver and it will grow back. We’re more aware of loss, but renewal is really the law of the land, and the sea.
-Thanks to our God-given regenerative brains cells, we are learning some amazing new ways to help each other – scientists are learning from sea stars and flat worms and other regenerators about the mysteries of stem cells. Maybe someday there will be limbs moving again for paraplegics.
-Sometimes the best thing to do is just let something go, and trust – and see - that a new thing will grow in its place.
-It’s probably a good policy not to name wild animals – we can anthropomorphize them and think they are our pets or property. Just think about the orcas Shamu and Willy.
-But sometimes a name can help form a bond - I call you by name - and we care a little bit more about that other being. All those nameless women in the Bible – did no one care about them? We cared about Stumpy!
Sea stars always remind me of the church season of Epiphany, right after Christmas, the star shining in the east. But actually all year long I try to pay extra attention to all the epiphanies, the revelations of God, in our world.
Sea stars seem like little epiphanies, surprising revelations of wonder and beauty and healing power.
There is something so poignant about the wounded sea star and so moving about its slow and determined healing.
I post these devotional reflections about ocean stewardship and spirituality every Wednesday, here and on Facebook When youth and adults come for service trips and pilgrimages to our Blue Theology Mission Station in Pacific Grove, CA, we always make a “spiritual” visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium and meet various Stumpies. www.bluetheology.com for info and availability..
Ron’s thumb was reconstructed this week, not by nature or regenerative cells, but by the good folks at Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula. It will never go back to its old self, but it is happy and healed. (Well, a little pain still.) We have all agreed that it is time to retire the table saw. Much fine building can still be done by restraint, with less, not more. That’s another post…..Be careful out there, especially with power tools.