I've been giving out gold stars for more than a month now. Many people I have given them to have kept them on their person, on their hats, their nametags, their favorite shirt. Others have put them somewhere safe, like their dashboards or their wallets or their cash registers. Still others have been given new ones on days they seem to need it. I have run into so many of the original receivers repeatedly in my small urban enclave, found out their names, met their children, their spouses, learned more about them. Sometimes I think, 'Shit. I might have to move.'
The receiver relationship doesn't just mirror a real relationship, it is one. Such a reality can't be avoided. When you engage with someone else, depend on them, let them depend on you, even in a momentary interaction, it's a relationship.
I thought the gold star could alleviate the guilt I have not saving every person I see. It was/is my little way of trying to help without getting enmeshed. But I have found that I am naturally enmeshed. I told a friend who is the same way that I would ship him a box of gold stars so he didn't have to get physically involved with every girl he sees. But he is smart. He knew it wouldn't work for him, just as it doesn't work for me.
It is very hard for me to walk away, especially when I see the same people day after day and know what they're going through, what they're grappling with. But the practice, on strangers especially, is a good one. People do have to believe in what they can do for themselves more than than they believe in what anyone else can do for them. I have to believe that for myself as both a giver and a receiver. Separation and independence are good things, things we need to learn for ourselves and our children. Boy, practicing them both is hard.
I learned today that the surfer who I featured in Mopping for Montauk is a fireman, a smart one, someone who eschewed a promotion to Captain and a bit more money for time with his family, with himself, with the sea. He is someone who gave up riding motorcycles, understanding it wasn't a risk he was willing to take just to feel cool and free for a few brief exhilarating moments. I now know his name, he knows mine. I will likely see him again soon. He might ask my advice, I might ask his. We might need each other one day. That's the way it works when you agree to live in a community, when you allow yourself to take on the responsibility of relationships.