As it usually does, my mind began to drift on a particularly damp and dark morning. Xena, my faithful hound was strutting down the shadowy path, oblivious to the winter weather. I was shuddering in the icy wind, wondering if I should have adopted a hamster rather than 90 muscular pounds of canine tugging on the other end of the leash!
The beauty of walking briskly at 5:30 in the morning is that the blood begins to flow readily. The mask of the prior night’s sleep begins to fade away, replaced by a keen sense of awareness. Everything seems to come into sharp focus and the orchestra of twinkling stars above resonates through your senses. Liberated by the fresh air and invigorated by the promise of a new day, the mind wanders of its own accord.
This particular numbing dawn, I found myself journeying back to my childhood. A few minutes earlier I had picked up a crumpled scrap of paper. As is my usual habit, I nab litter and deposit it into trash cans along the path. Ironically, the trash has usually been carelessly dropped within feet of a nearby dumpster.
In this particular instance, I had taken the time to unfold the single sheet of weathered notebook paper. Our favorite path is about a hundred yards away from a middle school. Invariably, the majority of litter I find turns out to be school assignments. I always hope that I have not discovered somebody’s homework, lost while walking to school. Some times the dog will unearth one of these scraps of paper. I always chuckle, imagining that there would be some truth to saying “the dog ate my homework!” Today’s find was a graded assignment, meant to be taken back home.
My eyes immediately focused on the top right corner of the spiral paper. A single gold foil star had been affixed to the homework. I glanced along the right side of the sheet to confirm that there were no red check marks beside each math problem. It appeared that some budding Einstein had managed to ace his arithmetic assignment. I was impressed; percentages and ratios were not an easy concept to grasp!
We exploded out the door and onto the playground! It was Friday afternoon and nothing was going to keep me or my classmates from starting our weekend as soon as possible! I skipped over to the never-ending line of yellow school buses along the curb. This was going to be one truly enjoyable ride home. The door whooshed open and I scrambled up the steps and into my favorite seat. The front right bench was a coveted spot in the elementary school transport. You got almost the same view as the driver and every child boarding the vehicle was subject to your scrutiny.
I sat back and pulled my Engl;ish homework out of my backpack. Unfolding the paper, I squinted to keep the glimmer of the gold foil star from hurting my eyes. There was not a drop of red ink to be found anywhere on my book report! Instead, there was a single metallic pentagram stuck to the upper right hand corner. I turned the paper around slowly, assuring that every one of my friends would see it as they boarded the bus. This was a point of adolescent honor!
Closing my eyes, I imagined the scene when I got home. My mother would coo and dote over me, proud to have given birth to a literary genius. When dad got home, she would proudly announce to him that I was the recipient of the coveted gold foil star. I would receive a knowing glance from him; confirmation that my scholarly pursuits met with his high expectations. Maybe we would go out to get ice cream for dessert; the creamy cold reward for my achievement! All of this from a simple sticker!
Imagine if we went through our adult lives in anticipation of the gold foil star. Rather than affix it to a piece of paper, perhaps we could have it placed on our shirts. Each of us would be armed with a sheet of gold foil stars, ready to be shared with the world. If one of our family members or coworkers exceeded our expectations, we would reward them with a sticker. If we saw a stranger displaying unusual kindness, we would share a star with them. Each of us could then walk around, proudly displaying our stars for the world to see.
Instead of focusing on the negativity in our world; perhaps the media might highlight those with the most gold stars on their chest. Magazine covers and billboards would be pasted with pictures of multi-sticker winners. For that matter, we could have presidential races and Nobel prizes determined by these simple adhesive-backed gold foil star shapes!
Could something this simple alter the way in which people behave? Would the specter of walking around with no stars on your chest change the way you act towards others? In many ways, ours is an extremely childish world; so perhaps childlike rewards might work after all. As for me, I have an entire roll of small gold foil stars just ready to share with the world!