Saturday, August 17, 2013

Distant Lights

Some nights, when you are in places where there is no cloud cover or fog or mist, you are able to see stars spilled about the vastness of the sky.  The longer you look, the lights seem to be pulsing, not mere light then, but light with a radiant agenda, broadcasting, emitting, sending forth.

If you look long enough, you are filled with an odd mixture of awe, grief of loss, and the oh, so supportive sense of thanks for being able to see these points of light and time and space.  The grief is almost overwhelming in ways that remind you of things closer to hand than these stars.  

The grief is from the knowledge that some of these stars have died, years before you were born.  How can you grieve for something so far away in space and time that you cannot name it or fathom it in the way of an astronomer?  

The distance that would seem to be exclusionary is overwhelming in its vastness.  Perhaps then it is the sense of light from dying stars that reminds you of things you have previously seen and have now only in dreams or memory.  Things you have once held close still send their light to you, and in that sense you appreciate again their names, their relationship to you and yours to them.  The thought of their name sends the light traveling.

You experience the frustration of wishing you knew the names of all these points of light and their approximate distances across the great void from you.  At the same time you are grieving for these dead or dying parts of the galaxy, you are stunned by the reassuring patterns of constellations and stars you do have names for.  

Once, when you stood inside the great library in London, you did not understand why tears formed in your eyes, then began their travel down your cheeks.  Men and women you knew by name and work had been in this room, reading, studying, perhaps writing at the works that were now the light they emitted in their lifetime in books, essays, poems, broadsides.

Often these moments,where you see the light from those distant times or read the words from more recent times but nevertheless times before you were here to see or experience in any way, fill you with a sense of being connected to something beyond the focus of brightness and ideas.  

You look into the night sky and see a sense of business and purpose more satisfying and nuanced than the military precision and purpose of ants or insects at work on a feeding project.  You see a busy, extraordinary universe in the full intimacy of evolving, becoming its destiny.

You look into a library and see a similar, but more accessible process, a history of a species, radiant with ideas and speculations and, most wonderful of all, a history of the ideas of a species gone awry.  Both the species and some of its ideas have been at times remarkable for wrongheadedness and positions of a hundred eighty degrees from actuality.  You see the other side as well, the side where the ideas resonate and show no signs yet of being wrong, and the species, for all its interior quirks and misapprehensions, still radiates qualities that have been identified over the years as empathetic and inclusive.

In a library, you are able to pull forth a book, say one filled with the works of a man for whom the word daft seems to have been custom-tailored, fitting him with an appropriate drape.

Among other things, he wrote:

I went out to the hazel wood,  
Because a fire was in my head,  
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,  
And hooked a berry to a thread;  
And when white moths were on the wing,          
And moth-like stars were flickering out,  
I dropped the berry in a stream  
And caught a little silver trout.  
When I had laid it on the floor  
I went to blow the fire a-flame,   
But something rustled on the floor,  
And someone called me by my name:  
It had become a glimmering girl  
With apple blossom in her hair  
Who called me by my name and ran   
And faded through the brightening air.  
Though I am old with wandering  
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,  
I will find out where she has gone,  
And kiss her lips and take her hands;   
And walk among long dappled grass,  
And pluck till time and times are done,  
The silver apples of the moon,  
The golden apples of the sun. 

You were quite young when you first read this and had only begun your wandering.  Although you rely on your wanderings still being robust and sincere, you are surest of all about the fire in your own head.

When you look at the night sky in its distant, pulsing clarity, or the stanza of a poem or a short story or a novel and then have pause to wonder where and who you are, you are lit by the fire in your head.

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