“Do you think Atticus has any concept of stars?” Alyssa asked me one night while we were laying in bed and the bright lights of the storage facility behind our apartment and the curtains played shadow shows on the ceiling.
My favorite album of the year, The Phosphorescent Blues, was inspired by an increasingly consistent experience the Punch Brothers had at shows. They’d look out at the crowd and see blue wandering will-‘o-the-wisps. Chris Thile explains the phenomenom this way in an interview with The Bluegrass Situation:
I remember when it first started happening, not even really understanding what was going on. It’s like wait, who is this ghost that’s in the middle of our crowd? Then we started to figure out, “Oh my god, it’s a Smartphone, it’s lighting their face.” Now, you look out into a crowd when you’re in a dark concert hall with 30 or 40 people. Not always that many, but if you were to see them from very far away, they would look like stars and they would start being in constellations from the way that you’d look at the night sky. Your eye makes connections that aren’t there. Of course, those stars aren’t connected to each other, there’s no actual relation, but we see them as being together.
I want to say that when we go to sleep we talk, read, say a prayer, then close our eyes and sleep peacefully and when we wake we brew coffee, read the paper, and prepare for the day. But most nights we check our Twitter and Instagrams until weary and when we wake check them again.
Just in case.
We are no longer alone in the universe. Like gods we hold the whole world in our hands. In our front pockets are libraries that make the Library of Alexandria look like the shabby book shelf in the guest room upstairs. Our soulmates are a swipe away. Our every thought 140 characters.
We don’t need the stars, we hold them. We are our own stars. Each of us a blue light in the great constellation of Us. Our spines, incurvatus in se, are bent in on ourselves towards our hand.
Everyone now knows how to find the meaning of life within himself.
But mankind wasn’t always so lucky. Less than a century ago men and women did not have easy access to the puzzle boxes within them.
They could not name even one of the fifty-three portals to the soul.
Gimcrack religions were big business.
Mankind, ignorant of the truths that lie within every human being, looked outward – pushed ever outward. What mankind hoped to learn in its outward push was who was actually in charge of all creation, and what all creation was all about.
Kurt Vonnegut, [Page One] The Sirens of Titan.
I had a friend tell me once that when he looked up at the night sky he became depressed: When I consider the heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, what is mankind…? (Psalm 8)
Too afraid to find meaning above, I find the meaning of life within myself. I no longer have to look up and wonder. I no longer have to explore, or guess, or worry, or wait. What is mankind…? I am. I have made the universe small. Like and comment, please, I’m afraid of the dark.
I am afraid of the dark so I turn the lights on and peer through the fifty-three portals – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pintrest, Gmail, YouTube, Tumblr, LinkedIn… – into my soul. I block out the night sky so I don’t have to be afraid of being alone. I’m never alone. One click and your always smiling face is in my hand. I have nothing to be afraid of now and nobody to wait for. We’re always together right now.
The night sky just an awful reminder that we’re on a grain of sand barrling through space waiting for the small lights of lightyears burnt out stars to reach us. So, I look down and my son has no concept of the stars.
But once upon a time, as the story goes, there were people who were not afraid to look up, shepherds in their fields and wise men from the east.
A bright light, the Glory of the Lord, appeared before the shepherds and they were afraid. But the angel comforted them, “Do not be afraid, I bring you good news…”, and the night sky filled with the light of a great company of the heavenly hosts singing: Glory to God in the highest heaven! Peace on earth to men! So the shepherds went to Bethlehem where a star shown above a manger.
And from the east wise men who had been searching the stars for answers written in the night sky came, “Where is the one who was born king? We saw his star and have come to worship him.” And they followed the star until it stopped where the child was born and they were overjoyed. In this child was life, and that life was the light of all mankind that they had been searching for. This light shined in the darkness, and the darkness had not overcome it.
I am afraid of the dark. Too afraid to look up I look down at the little blue ghost in my hand. Too afraid to wait for the light of the stars to reach me I check my phone and click Like. But the Light of God has travelled lightyears and broken through the darkness. Despite lonlieness and betrayal, temptation and torture, crucifixion and grave the darkness has not overcome the Light.
Since Alyssa asked me about the stars whenever I’ve been outside at night I’ve looked up, searching the skies, finding little but black-blue velvet speckled with the blinking white and red lights of passing by satellites. But on a cold night, after it rains, the atmosphere seems more clear and maybe there’s a glimmer of something.