A Deep Reverence for Mystery

Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light;
I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.
-Sarah Williams, The Old Astronomer to His Pupil


Baby Ro has a little mobile of stars above her bed, and since the beginning has found them fascinating to watch, even when they're not moving. She also adores a painting of the moon given to us a few years ago by her aunt, and we sometimes sing a little song about them when we're trying to soothe her into rest. The irony of this is that between an entire life lived within light-polluted city limits and an entire life lived in Canadian winter, she's never seen a real star, and only once or twice the real moon. Somehow, though, I think she'll love them both when she finally does.

I thought about this while I was listening to the latest episode of On Being, a discussion between the host, Krista Tippett, Maria Popova, and Natalie Batalha. The three of them lead a lovely exploration into the intersections of science and spirit, but at one point, Krista references another episode with Brother Guy Consolmagno, and an anecdote about his telescope. The conclusion Consolmagno drew from the seemingly universal interest in seeing the stars was that everybody wants to know where they fit into the universe, but although that may be part of it, I'm not sure I fully agree.

There's a common refrain in teaching others, especially children, about difference, which is that we're all the same on the inside. We all bleed red. But to me, it's much more compelling to think about the fact that we all look up. Generations and generations of children and adults staring into the sky and trying to puzzle out what's happening up there, why the stars shift through the night as the seasons turn, why they sometimes streak across the darkness. Stories to help us remember where they are, and which ones to follow when we're lost. Humans are a curious species, and, if Voyager's Golden Record is any indication, we are also unceasingly social. We want to be seen and heard, we want to present our best selves to each other even when "each other" is completely unknown. For all that we also end up fearing and hating and harming each other, there's something powerful and courageous in that impulse to reach out.

I wrote last week about courageous kindness, and in the past I've asked you, readers, to make a point to reach out to others even when it's scary. I think what I'm trying to do this week is build on that a bit. Because my whole life prior to 2011 had been spent in small towns, when we first moved to the city, I was daunted by the sheer number of people, the hugeness and strangeness of being so constantly surrounded. Growing up, the fact that everyone knew me was stifling, but being totally anonymous even to the people on the other side of my walls turned out to be not so great, either. For the past couple of years, I've tried instead to draw on both my small-town upbringing and my time as a community advisor in undergrad in an attempt, when I'm interacting with someone, to keep our shared sky more prominent in my mind than our shared blood. I try to bite back the urge to fear and feed the part of me that wants to share my wonder at the stars, the sky, and each other.

Crying on the Streetcar

We Owe Each Other the World

We Owe Each Other the World