by Ray Tetz—
I have a starfish on my desk. It’s a delicate little starfish, about an inch across. Medium brown in color, with five spindly legs.
The starfish is encased in plastic—resin, actually—the physical result of a Pathfinder honor class in “Plastics and Resins” that I took back in the sixties. The class was offered by my church. My classmates were friends from church and school, and Pathfinders was just one of dozens of things that we all did together. It was one of my most important and earliest communities.
In the supervised mayhem that barely passed for an honor badge class of boisterous fifth and sixth graders, we made cool and useful little things. Like paperweights and bolo tie slides out of dried up natural stuff (shells being the favorite) and resin—now known as plastic. We got to mix up the resin, which was guaranteed to make a mess. There were colors—called pigments—we could add to the mix if so inclined. There were these little molds that we placed our natural objects into, and then we poured the resin in around them. Sometimes we had to create a layer of resin that the natural object would rest on before pouring in the rest. There were popsicle sticks for poking things around and getting them situated just perfectly in the resin. And then there was the strong stuff—the catalyst! It made the resin harden more quickly. Even with the catalyst, the trays of molds had to go into the dark cupboard for a full week of waiting before we could pop out our newly created treasures and slip them onto our ever-fashionable bolo ties!
I was quite proud of my little starfish, unique in all the world. Now I realize that the honor badge for this particular activity was itself an embroidered picture of a little starfish encased in plastic, just like mine. This is mildly disappointing, I admit. It is probably accurately described as the baby boomer’s dilemma: nothing you do is unique or different from what everybody else does. But I learned a lot of lessons in that class I haven’t forgotten.
In Resins class I learned that a catalyst is an external agent that, when added to a substance, accelerates the rate of change. I’ve benefited from knowing this bit of wisdom for more than 50 years. And I learned it in Pathfinders.
I learned about processes and how you can’t speed them up. I learned that mistakes happen and will need to be cleaned up. I learned that not every idea works. I learned that there is always someone who can do things better than you can. I learned that you quickly develop a special affection for what you create yourself, regardless of how it turns out.
The starfish is unchanged after all these years, a product of another era. But I’ve changed.
I keep the little starfish on my desk as a reminder of all the things that childhood taught me, of friendships made long ago, of how small things can be important things, of how resin became plastic that became lightweight, bulletproof, polycarbonate that became cellphones and fenders and a menace to the environment.
I keep it around because it reminds me of who I was once, and of who I’ve become, and of the values I want to carry forward into my life.
I keep it around as an anchor with my traditions and as a reminder of what happens when a person doesn’t change. And because it’s portable enough to have successfully moved from one desktop to another—all the way from 6th grade until now.
It’s an artifact, a relic, a symbol, an icon, a remembrance, a pointer, a keepsake, a reminder, a beacon, a piece of history, a moment in time. Embedded with that little starfish in the resin you can probably still find my DNA. You can certainly find the roots of my future life.
I still have my starfish—it’s been on my desktop for as long as I’ve had one. Rubbing my finger across the resin, I’m still grateful for those patient Pathfinder leaders who helped me make it. And for everything else they did for me, too.
Ray Tetz is the director of communication and community engagement for the Pacific Union Conference.