Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Moon and Stars

A few things have happened recently.

First, I saw a few scenes of Romeo and Juliet[1]. While the whole play doesn’t pack quite the shattering cataclysmic wallop that it did when I was fifteen, the power of the words remains very alive. Theirs is an unreasonable passion. The sheer certainty and urgency of their love screams off the iambic pentameter at a frequency that has resonated in so many different hearts for four hundred years. And now, the weight of all those centuries of hearts is stacked behind the words.

Second, President Obama again shied away from speaking directly and urgently and effectively towards an efficient and sustainable energy source. And all the while, the world's climate seems to grow more and more strange and unpredictable. It is frightening that the powerful are not acting on this growing and certain urgency.

These are both nothing more or less than tragic love stories, really.

We are captivated by the legends and myths and traditions of single answers. We search for Romeo or Juliet, we long for a leader to fulfill all our hopes and dreams.

At her balcony, Juliet asks Romeo to swear that he loves her. He begins to swear by the moon, and she stops him because the moon is inconstant and she worries that his love will “prove likewise variable.”

I think of the moon, variable though it is. When it is out, it is the biggest and brightest and nearest thing in the night sky. And there is a glorious beauty in the moon. Had Romeo and Juliet managed to survive more than a week, I think they would have been glad of all the ways that the variability of the moon is an apt metaphor for love, even eternal love. It shifts, it changes, it grows, it wanes and waxes and changes shape and size depending on time and our own perceptions of where we are in relation to that inconstant moon in its circled orb. Moonlight falls differently on our faces, across our pillows variably by the season, dependant on our sleep cycles and window access. Some nights and most days, you cannot see the moon, but it is always there. There are some loves that are like this.

However, if you are relying only on moonlight, your heart will always have empty nights.

Let us remember and now praise the stars. In their multitude, there is something more like how we accurately we love and are loved. See the patterns of constellations, their form and stories, as a network. Personally, I love too many people and places and things in this world, in too many different ways, for too many reasons, to believe being static, stagnant definition of love. 

Since I learned them, I have found constellations comforting. Out of the vastness of the night sky comes familiarity, resonance, an upside down grounding of something eternal. It is akin to finding a friend in a crowd of thousands. We forget, sometimes, how deeply we are loved and by how many. I am always humbled and overwhelmingly grateful to remember this. Because, too often, we only look to the moon, only for the moon. And, everything is richer and more beautifully complex than a single bright, even brilliant, light.

I think of this in many ways. In how we love each other as humans, in how we look for leaders and figureheads and rescuing heroes to make a better world. At the Martin Luther King, Jr. assembly at my school, I thought of how we easily align ourselves behind one great leader and think less about the collection of unremembered individuals who stood alongside, supported, worked in concert with one person's efforts. That is a constellation of love, more varied and interesting perhaps than the hero who has come to symbolize the passion of many.

It is hard to not just look at the moon if it is large and present, hard to remember the stars. In that light, I was hoping, this week, that President Obama would address the Keystone XL Pipeline in his State of the Union speech and make effective strides towards taking control of our planet's future. There was an opportunity for leadership on a corner of the issue that, when I just checked the forecast, it is warmer in Anchorage than Atlanta. And, while I understand that there are many and complex issues that the leader of our fractious nation would be compelled to address, it is as heartbreaking as ever to not see such the fossil fuel industry’s hijacking of our planet fully acknowledged, named as the challenge to be faced.

But then, again, this was looking too much at the moon and not remembering the stars. I wanted a few words, from one person, to fix everything that is broken. I wanted an external solution, someone to tell me what to do because that is easier than the simultaneous internal and collaborative approach that actually saving the world from ourselves, our unsustainable desires, will entail. I wanted to see the full moon shining, not do the harder work of building a scrappy network among stars. But, no solution, no happiness, no eternal anything comes from a single source. I do not believe in silver bullets any more than I believe in each person having a single, perfect, soul mate.

Again, I believe in the stars, in the networks and movements of people who come together out of love to form a picture, a story, a support system, a movement. Certainly, there will be leaders who speak the right words to wake people up a little. And, thankfully, people will still get up everyday and fall in love with each other, like Romeo and Juliet—hopefully with better results. The moon, these seeming single answers to all our aches and longings, we do not need to fully give up on these entities or the quest for them. But to see them, still, for what they are: part of the light.

We need to realize the richness of the night sky, the panoply of light sources, the variety and angles and stories and actions of how we love each other on this planet. We need to remember our own lights too, that we are stars in our loved ones constellations, that we are the faces and bodies and hearts that the world at large needs. It is hard to loosen our grip on old legends, but this awakened plurality is what is eternal and ever evolving and undefinable, and where all good things will come from. 

[1] Available here, about the 3rd through 6th minute should do the trick. 

(The Lawrence Tree, by Georgia O'Keefe, from

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