Friday, April 27, 2012

A Sailor on a Sea of Stars

When I was little I dreamt of the stars.
The world of my childhood was wide-open to the stars and the night sky was bursting with them. In the evening I would look for the North Star first and, later, gaze longingly into the inky blackness of a universe that was bursting with light. Millions of stars and in my mind each one a source of wonder. Who lived out there? Was there anyone? There had to be. Some nights I would reach skyward as John Carter had done in supplication to Mars. My outstretched hand was yearning to somehow touch the universe.
During this time I always believed that I was born 200 years too early or too late. I wanted a sail on a tall ship with a star to steer her by. I wanted to feel the wind on my face and the deck beneath my feet as my ship - my ship - sailed onward beneath the stars. Barring that, I wanted to stand on the bridge of my own starship; a sailor on a sea of stars. I dreamed that I flew across the heavens with the stars as my beacon, trusting in myself and the North Star to see me to a safe harbor. I didn't know where that safe harbor was. But, in my dreams, I could find it.
Looking up at the night sky I would wonder how many countless people have looked up into the same sky and dreamed in wonder. Primative man, the Greeks, the Romans, the Egyptians, the Toltecs, the Mayans and so many other peoples had looked at these stars and tried to make sense of them. The stars are not meant for rationalization. Rather, the stars are for dreams. This is why the constellations all have stories to go with them. Men told tales of the figures found in the stars to make sense of a world that doesn't. Men dream when looking at the stars and look to the heavens.
As a child I believed that the stars were a part of us because we were a part of them. This thought energized me. I was made from the stuff of stars. Me - skinny, stuttering, too shy me - was made from the same powerful majesty that fueled the lights of the night sky. How magnificent and insignificant that thought made me feel. Later Carl Sagan would say, "Some part of our being knows this is where we came from. We long to return. And we can. Because the cosmos is also within us. We're made of star-stuff. We are a way for the cosmos to know itself." And I believed him, too. I wonder if the Universe is indeed trying to know itself through us even as we are trying to know ourselves...
Now, today, the night sky is a stranger, infrequently seen in fits and starts. If I am to look at the night hand is not outstretched. I hear neither the wind in the sails nor the hum of the engines as my ship follows the brightest star. My dreams are quiet. Yet, the night sky is still full of stars and, possibly, still full of dreams. The stars have not changed. Rather, it is I who have changed. Someday, I will reach out my hand again...
“Second star to the right and straight on 'til morning.”