Author’s Note: my favorite book that I read this year was Lab Girl by Hope Jahren. This book linked memoir and botany in a beautiful patchwork of observations. This post is my first attempt to do something similar, to link our quest for recognition and meaning with the night sky. 🙂
Star (noun): an outstandingly talented performer; a person who is preeminent in a particular field.
The first nonfamily nickname I was ever given was Sparkles, granted to me by my third-grade teacher, Mrs. Jackson. Mrs. Jackson was exactly the kind of woman you would imagine would teach third grade. She had a round smiling face and wore long cotton dresses with bold prints and large pockets.
Mrs. Jackson called me Sparkles because (she told me conspiratorially) my eyes sparkled when I smiled. I don’t recall her giving nicknames to anyone else in our class, and I was flattered by the special attention. It never occurred to me that maybe everyone sparkled.
Mrs. Jackson liked to start her class each day with the following routine: after we stood to say the pledge of allegiance, we would chant a poem of self-affirmation accompanied by arm movements, a kind of interpretive dance to drill into us positivity and self-confidence.
I don’t remember the entire poem, but I remember it ended with a room full of eight-year-olds exclaiming, “Reach for the moon! Even if you miss, you’ll always come down with a handful of stars!”
We were taught to aim for the brightest and biggest object in sight. Stars were a consolation prize, though the idea of missing, of falling short, of failure, was presented as a handful of glittering beauty.
Maybe what Mrs. Jackson should have said was, Reach for the moon, but learn to be satisfied with a handful of stars.
Maybe what she should have said was, You sparkle, because you are more like a star than the moon.
Or maybe, You are just like all the other stars in the sky.
Beautiful Metaphors in a Sea of Darkness
Star (noun): a natural luminous body visible in the sky especially at night.
The easiest way, I once learned, to tell the difference between a star and a planet is to look for sparkles. Stars sparkle, while planets do not, because starlight must travel hundreds of millions of miles, warping in the distance and in the earth’s atmosphere before reaching you where you stand with your neck craning and eyes pointing up.
The stars inspired our ancestors, who used the night sky to form stories in their early imaginations. Those same stars guided our forefathers, who used the night sky to navigate across oceans and plains. And though most of us have lost both those stories and the ability to navigate by night, the stars continue to sparkle, beautiful metaphors in a sea of darkness.
Some stars shine brighter than others, appearing first as day fades into evening fades into night. Sirius, the Dog Star, shines brightest in the northern hemisphere. Other stars are noteworthy due to their position in the sky. I am thinking in this case of Polaris, the North Star. It is a humble sparkle, made important only by its current position relative to the earth, and its relevance will fade over time. The ancients used a different star entirely to guide them in the dark.
We were all raised to want to be stars, to be special and meaningful and needed. Sometimes we forget that no night sky is made up of a single spark.
And even Sirius, that brightest of stars, appears dim in the shine of a full moon. And even Polaris, the most important of stars, will one day be replaced as the earth’s face tilts away.
Hold Your Sparkle Tightly
Star (noun): a self-luminous gaseous spheroidal celestial body of great mass which produces energy by means of nuclear fusion reactions.
While we may think it is important to shine like the moon or to be recognized like Polaris, we must remember that the other nameless stars are no less celestial in nature. They seem unimportant only because we gaze at them from the perspective of our current position. Do you think that a star’s energy changes when our perspective changes, or does it still sparkle just as brightly in its own corner of the universe?
Some stars appear so dim you can’t even see them unless you look away, because the corner of your eye is better at detecting black-and-white details than the center. Is that a failing of the star, or a failing of the human eye?
Should we give up on being self-luminous just because others cannot see and name us? Should we say, If I cannot be the moon, I do not want to be a star?
Let us try instead to hold our sparkle tightly and trust that our place in the sky will become clear. Named or not, we may yet become guiding lights for others. Named or not, we are still part of that glittering handful of stars.
Much love. – Lindsay