The heart of The Matter
It is about the stars.
I forget them.
Every day turns into night. And most nights, living here in the high mountains, I have the opportunity to see them, just by looking up. Looking …up.
But months go by when I don’t. I push the garage-door opener and pull the car in and my home life pulls a tiny bit of attention from my work life and the day has become night. Or I am somewhere working and the twilight tiptoes out of the late-afternoon sunset and clouds, and I have missed it all. Inside a building. "Taking" a meeting. Being busy. So very busy.
Then a day comes like today. When the sunset arrives a bit later and I leave work a bit sooner. I end up in the driveway on a phone call that starts when there is still a bit of light and ends when it dusk plus. And, I admit, I idle there to stay warm. When I pull into garage I notice I have left the garbage cans in the driveway and I walk back out to drag them in. The wind is blowing and I think of the title of Ray Bradbury’s book, "Something Wicked This Way Comes," and I look over at the tree swaying in my neighbor’s yard. And beyond the top of that pine I see a star.
It is unexpected.
I have lost track of the time and the time of year. And at first I see no other stars.
Just The One.
Twinkling. On and off. Near and far.
And my eyes adjust and they appear. Like a slow-motion film, revealing themselves, one by one. And the wind quiets. And the neighborhood is still. No cars pass by. No folks walking dogs or kids on skateboards. It is a frozen moment in time. Just those visible invisible stars. And I am cemented in place and suspended in space and lost in a shape-shifting time that is only seconds or time zones or a measurement we don’t have a name for.
The cold snaps me back and the stars seem stationary and demand I try to name the patterns. Something no one taught me when I was a child. Somewhere in my forties there was a lover on an island in the San Juans who used the stars to guide us home in the dark choppy waters from island to island and tried to calm my fears by pointing out all the constellations any school child with a loving parent would have known. But I was more adrift than our tiny skiff and, though he found our way back to the island, I had lost my way home.
I lost a dear friend not long after that. An older man. A mentor. And I remember writing some clichéd piece about "another star" having joined the sky. He had been a talent agent, a Super Agent before we knew the term he had brought the Beatles to America. Norm was gone and I thought it was comforting to think of him as a star, all his own.
And then the years passed, by twos and threes, and no one close to me passed away in all that time and maybe time became timeless for a while. As it can. And nothing bad happened. In fact, a lot good happened. Then, about five years ago, I started losing people again. Some older, not entirely unexpected. Some too young and completely unexpected. And the losses started mounting. Which can set you spinning. Until the spinning becomes dervishing and you are lost, lost, lost in a blur.
The stars tonight are gentle reminders there is symphony of voices in all those constellations if we listen. There are Greek myths and oft-repeated songs including Crosby, Stills and Nash luring us into dreams of stars visible only from the southern tips of the northern sky.
Right before I moved to Park City some 33 years ago I went on a long weekend retreat. There was a group of us hippie spiritual seekers locked together in a national park with great lodging. I ended up one night in a circle outdoors with all kinds of people. And I found myself face-to-face with a kind man who turned out to be an Episcopal priest. The workshop had brought us to a point where we were left to question who we were and how we had arrived together at that very weekend at that very place.
Even then the cynic, I knew I was moving a month later, and I was rather flip in my level of commitment. People were professing all kinds of charismatic love. Dan I think his name was Dan, the priest asked me what I thought about the weekend and the events outdoors that night. I was young. Did I mention I was young? I said I thought the stars were nice. I thought that would end it.
He looked at me in a way I can remember precisely, right this minute, and I can hear his voice. Later he said it was an e.e. cummings quote, but I never have found it. He said, with the gentlest of kind voices, "We are the stuff that stars are made of." And I knew, no matter who had said it, it was poetry.
Now, all these years later, I know it is a kind of quantum physics truth: Matter can neither be created nor destroyed. It is the kind of recycling we have yet to fully understand or embrace. But tonight, just tonight, I thought of that quote and that spiritual explanation of perhaps a scientific fact and I got a bit dizzy with it all. "Dust to dust" just might mean stardust.
It provides a bit of comfort to think about on this clear, clear, star-filled night that promises to be full of snowflakes by Sunday here in the Park …
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the organization that provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.