The Mermaid's Tale

All mermaids are storytellers. One of the best of the tale-spinners is named Daredra. She often swims in the shallow tropical waters near my Florida home. I found her there on a night last weekend, combing the seafoam and spray from her long brown hair. A misty yellow moon was rising behind her out of a charcoal-colored ocean.
I asked Daredra for a story. Agreeable lass that she is, she readily consented. Daredra told me she'd been swimming the night before, in the ocean off Miami Beach. And the glittering lights of the hotels, which can be seen for many miles at sea, reminded her of a long-forgotten story from the days when the world was young.

Daredra said that the tale she was going to tell me -- like her own tail -- was part legend, part myth, part magic, and part poetry. She asked me to share the story with
my friends, and I readily agreed. There was a moment of delicious silence. Daredra gazed up at the gleaming yellow moon, as if drawing on its power. Then she turned to me, smiled, and began her tale.

Long before the rise of Ancient Greece and Rome, the people of Atlantis had created the world's most advanced culture. In many ways, their technology went far beyond anything that the modern world has developed. But in spite of their engineering marvels, evil times befell fabled Atlantis, and it wasn't long before God had become very angry with them.

For you see, the people of Atlantis enslaved the inhabitants of neighboring islands, and worked them unceasingly until they died. The men of Atlantis were greedy and sensual. They violated their own women and those of the slaves with ruthless ferocity. Unwanted children were abandoned, and the sick and elderly were cast off cliffs into the sea.

Atlantis was ruled by a hereditary King who surrounded himself with courtiers and flatterers. Only the King and his court were allowed to eat the greatest delicacy which the island provided. And that was the flesh of an orange starfish which drifted up onto the beach during the full moon on Midsummer's Eve. On that single night, thousands of the delicious starfish would come in with the evening tide, and be stranded on the beach. The next morning, the slaves of Atlantis were forced to gather the starfish, and bring them in baskets to the King's palace. For a full week, the King and his lackeys would stuff themselves with starfish until none were left.

In fact, on the entire island, there were just two good human beings; a man named Tico and his wife, Lea. They owned no slaves, and tried, as best they could, to lead decent lives. But the evil culture of Atlantis oppressed them mightily, so Tico and Lea decided they would have to leave Atlantis in their small open boat, and migrate to another land. They chose to embark on Midsummer's Eve, during the night of the full moon. Tico and Lea filled their small skiff with food and water, and dragged it down to the beach. They expected to see no one, because the King and his court were resting for the week-long orgy that was scheduled to begin in the morning.

But to their great surprise, the young couple saw a hooded, black-robed figure standing ankle-deep in the warm sea. The mysterious creature was gently lifting starfish from the shallow surf, and hurling them, discus-fashion, into the deeper water beyond the reef.

Speechlessly, Tico and Lea watched him -- at first in fascination, and then in growing awareness. Without a word to him or to each other, they joined him in the shallow water. And throughout the night, hour after hour, they cast the orange starfish back into the Deep. When the sky grew light and the sun was about
to break the horizon, the hooded apparition turned to them, and pointed out to sea. Wordlessly, Tico and Lea waded back to the beach, dragged their skiff into the surf, and paddled away from Atlantis. They did not look back.

After a sea-voyage of five weeks, the homeless couple beached their craft on a tropical island. It was a beautiful land with a gentle climate, and they were delighted that it was uninhabited. Tico and Lea lived happily on the island, and their children were many. The community they built was based on goodness and understanding.
God allowed them to prosper. They never knew that soon after their departure, Atlantis was destroyed by an enormous tidal wave. The entire wicked civilization perished.

Like Atlantis, however, the most important holy day on the new island occurred when the orange starfish drifted up onto the beach. On that night, Tico and Lea and all their children and grand-children went down to the ocean and waded out into the moon-drenched surf. They picked up starfish and gently cast them back over the reef and into deeper water.Throughout the night, the ceremony would continue until all of the starfish were back home in the Deep.

One night, Pepi, one of their youngest grandsons, asked them why it was the custom to throw starfish back into the ocean. Tico looked at him affectionately, and said,
"You see, Pepi, the starfish don't really want to come up on our beach. But they're attracted by bright lights, particularly the image of the full moon gleaming through the shallow water. So the starfish detach themselves from their homes on the floor of the ocean, and follow the lure of the lights. And that leads them to their death."

Lea looked at the little boy. "The reason we throw the starfish back, Pepi, is because we've found that human beings, even good ones, are sometimes lured by false dreams and desires. And they often, inexplicably, drift to their deaths pursuing the siren lights."

Lea tousled the little boy's hair. "Someday, Pepi, you may find yourself alone and abandoned on just such a desolate beach. But should that happen, God will cast you back into deeper water because you have been kind to his beloved starfish." Tico looked at his grandson. "Do you see those stars up there, Pepi -- that group just beyond the Big Dipper that looks like a starfish?" The little boy glanced up and nodded. "That's the Sign of the Starthrower, Pepi. As long awe can see that constellation, we know that God is pleased with us." Lea continued, "And on nights like this, when the Sign of the Starthrower is gleaming bright in the midnight sky, we all recite a short prayer that you will learn and pass on to your own children. It goes like this:"

Starthrower, Starthrower
Cast me to sea
Back home to the Deep
Where alone I am free
Starthrower, Starthrower
Pray that my kin
Will learn that the Light
That they seek
Is within

Tico and Lea's children spread out to the far corners of the Earth. But along the way, many of them forgot their gentle ways, and evil has once again become common in our world. The Sign of the Starthrower still gleams in the midnight sky, but few people are good enough to see it. If you would be one of them. you must recite
the age-old words of the prayer, while you picture yourself casting a starfish back into the sea. And if you do, when your plight is most desperate, when you feel most alone and forsaken, God will be there for you.

End of story. Daredra looked up at the moon, and slowly repeated the words of the prayer one last time. Then she smiled at me, slipped into the water,and, with a flick of her mermaid's tail, disappeared into the Deep.