“If people sat outside and looked at the stars each night, I’ll bet they’d live different lives.”
– Bill Watterson
“This is the best place in the world to watch the stars.”
“On a trampoline?”
“Anywhere that I am with you, my dear!”
Somewhere nearby her mother sighed “H’aww!” From out of the darkness, like distant thunder, her father rumbled, “Don’t let him sweet-talk you!”
“That’s the trouble with the world!” I said. “Nobody recognizes honesty anymore.”
The trampoline quivered around my hand, and then I felt her hand find mine. “Don’t worry, I believe you! And I couldn’t agree with you more,” she added pointedly just to tease her father.
“My favorite star is that one.” I pointed to the brightest of the heavenly bodies. “It’s Jove—also known as Jupiter, but either way I’ve always preferred to call her Evangeline.”
“Of course you have. Isn’t that from a movie?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” I answered in pseudo-innocence.
Her soft laughter drifted into the night air. It must have carried into the heavens, or else I had no explanation for why the stars decided to shine brighter just then. They must have heard, and the sound must have made them more cheerful. It couldn’t be my imagination, that the stars shined a little more radiant everywhere she went. I had seen it firsthand.
I was still admiring the sky, and silently enjoying her company, when she spoke again.
“I’m glad I let you talk me into this,” she admitted. “The stars are beautiful.”
“Not half as beautiful as you.”
Her father laughed. “He knows the rules!”
“You don’t believe me? If you’d like me to spell it out rationally—”
“You don’t have to prove anything,” she said; and if I know her, she was blushing just a little.
“Go ahead, let’s hear his excuse,” her father goaded.
“Dad! Be quiet!”
Laughing, I bade her, “Relax, my dear. May I? Please? I’ll be as succinct as possible.”
I thought I could hear the eyes rolling in her head. “If you insist.”
Van Gogh’s “The Starry Night”
“It’s simple, really. A star is bright, beautiful, magical, everything you have always been from a distance. And like you, a star is even more breathtaking up close. The only difference is something you can’t really see. Not that you look anything like a star,” I amended quickly, “but you’re both beautiful, in your own distinct ways. The difference is what you can’t see. What I can’t see in a star, I know is just a natural nuclear reactor, a swirling vortex of energy. The human heart is similar in nature, but very different in—let’s say, execution. I know that what I can’t see in you is something much more powerful, and much more beautiful, than what lies in the heart of a star.”
There was a lot of laughter, but none of it was hers. She only smiled and whispered, “I believe you. Because I know you, and I know you mean every word. Most women wouldn’t fall for all that—that—”
“Moonshine? But you do. That’s part of what makes you so beautiful.”
“No, you’re perceptive—and understanding. It’s just what I was talking about, the ways you execute your heart. The ways you show it are what’s beautiful about you. The heart of a star is executed very differently. You know . . .” I said slowly, thoughtfully, “this is an interesting topic we’ve brought up.”
“Here comes the philosophy.”
“What have I been talking about for the past few minutes?”
“That’s a good point. Go on.”
“I’ve often said that we are just stars, drifting through space. The world around us—is imaginary! We’re just asleep, and this is all a dream. How could we know reality? We cannot! And that’s why it’s necessary to call on a higher point of reference. We can let our senses dazzle us all we want, and they’ll do everything they can to trick our minds into believing the craziest things. Or, we can look to Someone who knows a lot more than we do.”
“Well, you know I don’t agree that life is just an illusion, but I think that’s a good argument.”
“I know you don’t agree. But it is just a perspective. I don’t think it’s important that we agree on that. You agree with the conclusions I draw from it and the basic principles of it, and that’s what matters. It’s really more of an analogy, anyway.”
“Exactly. There’s a world beyond this one, one we don’t and can’t completely understand, and we’re agreed on that.”
“And that’s the important part,” I said. “I don’t care that you don’t look at it quite the same way. As long as you look at it.”
“The stars show us that.”
“Yes, exactly! It’s a big universe.” Holding her hand, I raised it with mine to wave them across the sky—our private shuttle through space. “Just look at all those stars, and think how many more there are we can’t see. I think if people would just sit out and look at the stars, and I mean really look at them, with open eyes and open minds and open hearts, they would see their lives a lot more clearly. Just think what a life-changing experience the stars would be if they were only visible once every hundred years! All the cities of the world would turn out their gaudy lights; everywhere people would spend the night out in open fields and on rooftops, just to see the stars while they had the chance. Think what the stars would mean to us then! Emerson wrote something fitting—about how people would preserve ‘the remembrance of the city of God,’ which they had seen that one time in their lives. It would shatter the petty, self-centered world most people seem to live in.”
“Yes! There are a lot of things we tend to sort of take for granted in life, looking at them without ever really seeing them or caring about them. Stars are most of those things. There are more of them than you can count with the naked eye, but who cares? We want to go to work, do our jobs, and then get home and eat, watch television, and sleep just so we can do it all over again. Nobody cares about things like the stars.”
“They don’t want to waste time thinking, that’s what it is,” I agreed. “People think they think—I mean—well, you know what I mean. Supposedly we’re thinking every day, but is it really thinking if we’re just filling our minds with the things we’ve learned or are learning, the things we’re doing, and what’s on television? Some of those things are important, of course—we can’t spend all our time thinking, we have to preserve life too. But we focus too much on life and not enough on living. We’re occupying our minds with what our senses are doing, and practically nothing else. Really thinking means—looking farther than all of that.”
“Exactly. We do have to be practical of course, but we take it too far. It’s sad that so many people live their entire lives without ever really, really thinking about the stars.”
“Because we’re distracted, by the most ridiculous things. ‘But if a man would be alone, let him look at the stars.'”
“Alone,” she repeated, her voice creaking with sarcasm.
I couldn’t help but laugh at her tone. “I realize I’m not alone. That’s not quite what I meant. I don’t know how Emerson meant it, but the way I see it, alone just means—well, to be free, and unhindered. For me, that never meant to be physically alone. I want to be alone—like a star. The stars might look lonely sometimes, but they’re not—most of them have planets, and they’re all in constellations. They’re all part of something, and it’s something bigger than they would be by themselves—that’s freedom. Same way, take an engine out of a car. All right, now it’s alone, free, unhindered—but what good does it do? It can’t go anywhere, it can’t do anything. It’s not really free unless it’s in a car, is it? It’s not free if it’s alone. The only kind of ‘alone’ I’m talking about is the kind that means being a unique, recognized part of a greater whole. ‘But if a man would be alone, let him look at the stars.’ . . . If a man is free, if he is with the people he loves, doing what he loves . . . let him do. Let him dream.”
“Talking to you is like an out-of-body experience,” she observed wisely.
“In a good way, or a creepy, eerie sort of way?”
She smiled. “Both. Sometimes I feel like my guy’s completely insane. And sometimes, I feel guilty because you’re so much more philosophical than me.”
“Stop right there! I don’t want you to ever think like that,” I reproved. “Why should you feel that way? There’s nothing wrong with having enough sense to live in this world. Sometimes I feel guilty for not having half as much sense as you do. But then I think, well, it’s perfect; you’re the part of me I’ve always known was missing. Together, we’re something bigger, see? Together we’re free.” I turned my head and smiled at her profile. “This is as alone as I ever want to be.”
Her father cleared his throat loudly.
“Present company excepted, of course,” I said.
“Watch it there!” he warned, amused.
Her mother yawned. I heard her chair creak as she got up. “This has been fun, but I think we should go inside. The bugs are just getting terrible.” There was a loud smack by way of emphasis.
“I hear that,” said her father. “Let’s go in and see what’s on television.”