In the Gutter, Refusing to Look at the Stars

Sliver, by Peter Blackwood (c)

The night sky is my refuge. I find peace and inspiration and a kind of analytical comfort in its resolute refusal to feel sorry for me or my planet. I see potential there, a million possible worlds where the universe is experimenting with consciousness and intelligence. 

But lately I’ve felt a strange resistance to looking up. Partially it’s because the world is burning, and maybe it was millions of years evolving around a campfire, but I find it hard not to be fascinated by the appalling flames we create for ourselves. War abroad and war at home, in our own streets. Dying oceans and changing climates, the almost mad compulsion of my race to find and release every bit of carbon buried in the harder parts of the lithosphere. Disasters. Crashes. Outbreaks. Suicides. 

The state of the world seems to track with personal struggles. After this year, I have a new appreciation for adults, for each one of them is a member of the walking wounded, carrying around enormous losses at once familiar and impenetrably specific. I try to be more understanding. Most of the functional people are functioning under a lot of weight. Life isn’t easy, or simple.

Last night I stood outside of the movieplex chatting with friends. I became increasingly distracted by the moon. It was waning gibbous, with 3/4 of the moon’s earth-side face in sunlight. Just four days ago it was full…how could it have changed so much? My mind got lost in the problem. Did I lose track of time? My friends heard me doing a little math under my breath.

Meanwhile, in my mind: a 28 day cycle when the moon’s visible face appears from darkness, grows full and then shrinks back to darkness, which we call a “new” moon. That means in a week the moon’s visible surface should increase (wax) or decrease (wane) by half. So, in half a week, it should change by a quarter. This jived with the evidence before my eyes, a three quarters (gibbous) moon.

By the end of the week, it should be a half (technically a third quarter) moon. The end of the following week should be the new moon. A quick check at while writing this post revealed that my reckoning was pretty good. Third Quarter is on the 17th, New Moon on the 25th. If you know the length of the cycle and what it looks like at each phase, you can calculate the full and new moons with some accuracy. I wonder how long it took prehistoric people to figure that out? 

Satisfied, my reckoning underscored a feeling I’ve had for a while, that things is the only constant. I thought more about being an adult, that perhaps I should accept that I don’t really have any idea where I am heading or what will happen, even though I have a plan. At my friend’s house (I’m couchsurfing until my trailer is ready) I lingered on the doorstep and looked up. The sky was very clear. In spite of the bright moon and the light pollution of Geneva, I could see the summer triangle and its dimmer attendants.

There are wonders up there, I know. I peered back at my car, where my telescope sat, full of the promise of perspective and peace and humility and maybe even wonder. But I couldn’t do it. I was tired, physically and emotionally, and, yes, I wanted to linger a bit longer in the world.

Part of my resistance was the unhelpful manner in which we humans like to wallow in our problems. Our failures form our egos as much as our successes. Last night, and recently, there is a part of me that doesn’t want to let go.

But another part of it is that I’m not giving up on the sentient bipedal mammals we call humanity. I still want to make things better, somehow. I still believe we’re a young race, and that we have a chance. It’s just last night I didn’t want to hear that message. I knew it was there, waiting. 

Perhaps that was enough. 


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