A few weeks ago, I opened a drawer at home and there it was, my 40th birthday present from Fred Rogers. We had moved a couple of times, so it had been tucked away and I had not seen or thought of it for at least a couple of years. (My 40th was eighteen years ago.)
It brought back the night, I guess it was in 1997, when I was visiting Mister Rogers’ home in Pittsburgh, and noticed a crystal starfish in his curio cabinet. He said it had been a gift to him from Joan Kroc, another friend and the owner of McDonald’s hamburgers.
I asked Fred if he had heard the starfish story. He might have just been being polite, but he said he had not. So, I shared it with him.
_ _ _
After a huge storm, a man walked alone on a beach where thousands of starfish had been washed up into the sand. In the distance, he saw another man bending to grab something, then hurling whatever it was back into the water. When the first man grew closer, he saw that the second man was gathering starfish, one by one, and throwing them back into the sea.
“What on earth are you doing?” the first man said.
“If these starfish don’t get back into the water, they’ll die,” the second man answered.
“But there are thousands of starfish on the beach,” the first man said. “What possible difference could it make?”
“To this one,” the second man said, looking down at the starfish he held in his hands, “It makes all the difference in the world.”
_ _ _
“Isn’t that wonderful,” Fred said when I had finished. “That one starfish.”
Several months later, Fred sounded almost giddy when he called me at home.
“I’ve found the perfect birthday present for you,” he said. “It should come in the mail in a few days. Of course, I can’t give you a hint.”
I opened the box when it arrived, and there it was. The starfish is hidden away no longer.
And I remember this, another cherished message from Fred.
“When I look at our starfish I not only think of Joan who gave it to us, but I think of you who gives it extra special meaning. You told me what a difference it made for that one person to save that one starfish. Well, you and I make a similar difference in each other’s lives. … You are my beloved brother, Tim. You are God’s beloved son.”