I was lucky enough to grow up in a rural town: a town with few lights, meager air pollution, and no tall buildings.
Those factors ensured that I could participate in a remarkable activity; on a dark, clear night, I could see the stars, shining in all of their glory.
Throughout my childhood, I spent numerous nights outside, eager to gaze upon these ethereal beings. When I was younger, my fascination with the stars was purely an aesthetic one. I craved beauty. I remember wanting to stand on my tippy-toes and extend my arm into the vacuum of space, so I could pluck a few stars from the sky and stow them in my pocket, where I could privately view their artistry whenever I desired. As I matured, my enchantment transformed into an intimate communion. I recognized myself in these stars. The ways they lived — the ways they died — were not too far from my own ways.
I am no astronomer, astrophysicist, or any sort of expert concerning stars or space. But, in my head (in my metaphors, stories, and poems), I separate a star’s life into two periods: their birth and life, and their collapse and death.
Most of the stars that we can view with our naked eye are still “alive,” despite popular culture’s myth that all of the stars in our sky no longer exist. So, most of the stars (90+%) I see at night are still in my first stage. While they are all alluring, I cannot say that any one of them is particularly distinct. None is more noticeable; none is superior. None shine much brighter than any of the others, at least not enough for my naked eye to catch an exceptional glitter when gazing upon it. I relate this stage to my own life, to many of our lives, when we settle for simply going through the motions. Too often, we settle for less than our best, for mediocrity. We settle for quiet and normal so that we do not stand too far out from the crowd. People are criticized for being too emotional, too sensitive, too loud, too invested. Instead, docility, conformity, and indifference are encouraged and normalized. There is scant appreciation for creativity, passion, and zeal.
Personally, I gave into that first stage for far too long. I quieted my voice and hushed my opinions, afraid to break the silence. I refrained from pursuing activities and subjects that truly captivated me. I resigned myself to a faint light, a dim one, that coincided with the lights that those around me chose to emit.
The problem with this acquiescence to dispassion is that time stops for no one, and time reverses itself for no one. Before we realize it, we let months, years, maybe our entire lives, slip by us. And when it comes to that second stage of our lives, the one where we collapse and die, we often do not rage against it. We yield to the death of an ordinary star. What is left behind is only a remnant of what we were, of what we could have been.
Imagine the other choice: the decision to live our lives loudly, brilliantly, unapologetically. You are a massive star, one that is incandescent. You shine brighter than the other stars in the night sky, not because you are superior but because you made the effort to live intentionally. You spoke about things that mattered. You were kind. You pursued hobbies and occupations that intensified your light instead of dimming it. And when the time came to collapse and die, you did not go gently. You raged against the dying of the light (1). You refused to only leave behind a remnant. Using the words of NASA, “Massive stars burn brighter and perish more dramatically than most...For one brilliant month, a single star burns brighter than a whole galaxy of a billion stars. Supernova explosions inject carbon, oxygen, silicon and other heavy elements up to iron into interstellar space...Without supernova, the fiery death of massive stars, there would be no carbon, oxygen or other elements that make life possible.”
Passion is contagious. I like to believe that if we live our lives with purpose and fervor, like a massive star, our lives will be brighter, and we will be more content. Additionally, a passionate life inspires others to abandon the norm and embrace their individuality. When we choose to live like a massive star instead of an ordinary one, we invest in the lives of future generations. Our death is not just a death. Our death is a supernova explosion that shares elements necessary for life with others. So, rage, rage. Gentleness is overrated.
(1) “Do not go gentle into that good night” by Dylan Thomas (1914-1953)
Photo by Ozi Boms