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Letter to the Editor
January 18, 2017

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This I Believe: The Gift of Starfish Throwers

Alzheimer's is a terrible disease. It makes you lose your memories, it cuts your ties with the people you love, those people who you no longer remember. It robs you of yourself.

My mother was frightened that she would develop Alzheimer's disease. And she did.

In the early days, when she still knew who she was and could live at home with my father, she continued to do many things she had done before the disease. But it wasn't the same...

When my mother went to the store, she would put her groceries and all her money on the counter, and Patty would pick out what she owed, return the rest and send her on her way.

When my mother went to the post office to mail another book to the great grandchildren, Marie would take the book, wrap it, address it and send it out. The next time my dad stopped at the post office, he'd pay the postage.

When my mother went for a walk and became confused, she would stop at the flower shop. John would sit her down, give her a glass of water, and talk to her until she was calm, and able to go home on her own.

But my essay isn't about my mother. This essay is about the people in the village who made a difference in her life, who shared their gifts of small actions, simple offerings they made during their busy days they slowed down to see, to care, to help, just that one person.

They looked not at the confused woman my mother had become they saw the person she had been before she was lost to the disease.

And they not only saw her, they treated her as that person. And they believed in her as that person.

I believe that we all have the ability to do this, to see each person as an individual, to value them, and to help where it's needed, one person at a time, no matter whether they still have their memories or their health or their sanity or their belief in themselves.

I believe it is one of the greatest human gifts, that we are able to do this.

Have you heard the story of the starfish thrower?

A wise man is walking on a beach and sees a young man picking up starfish left behind by the tide and throwing them back into the ocean. He asks the young man why he's throwing the starfish, and he says "The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don't throw them into the ocean, they'll die."

Upon hearing this, the wise man responded," But young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can't possible make a difference!"

At this, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he said, "It made a difference for that one."

My mother was gifted with starfish throwers in her village.

I aspire to be a starfish thrower, too.

Val Mercer

Tonawanda resident

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