Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Constellations By Which We Steer

The Big Dipper, Little Dipper, and Orion were the first constellations I learned to recognize in the night sky. Large and angular, Orion was always the easiest to locate, even through the smog of a Southern California summer night sky. Visiting my maternal grandparents, whose home was on the outskirts of the desert, I liked to stand outside and marvel at how many more stars you could see in the sky, without the interference of street lights and away from the worst of the smog. But before I could start picking out smaller constellations, I always had to get my bearings by locating Orion. 

For some reason, I latched onto that constellation as if it were a talisman. No matter where I happened to be, if I could find Orion, I knew where - and who -  I was in this world. I see myself as if in a series of snapshots, growing up: me, at age 9, pretending to sleep in the backseat of my parents' car, on the way home from some family gathering, and instead trying to keep Orion in view as long as possible. Me at 14, miserable at church camp, and stepping away from the stories and jokes told around the evening fire, melting away from the crowd to stare up at the night sky between two pines, and breathing a sigh of relief when I could see the Orion beginning to come into view. And at age 18, finishing up a night class at the local community college, and nearly tripping over a dip in the sidewalk as I tried to both walk to my car and find my favorite constellation, simultaneously. 

Later, age 24, tired of my then boyfriend waffling between 'I love you' and 'I'm not sure if I love you, maybe I don't know what love is,' for what seemed like the millionth time, I tuned him out and searched through his truck windshield for Orion who, insofar as I was aware, had never waffled. Still later, at age 29 and 34 and 45, moving to Hawaii and Massachusetts and New York, respectively, I would always try to find my favorite constellation, bringing at least some sense of familiarity to new and unfamiliar surroundings. For some reason, Orion came to seem, to me, to represent continuity and steadfastness, especially at times in my life when those were things I needed the very most. That angular constellation was but one way that I could navigate back to the familiar.

But we find constellations in other things, as well, I think, and learn to navigate by those, too. I think of all the many kindnesses of people I've known over the years. Sometimes, when things seem a bit dark, those kindnesses are like stars against a night sky, providing some illumination and pattern of compassion that I can follow back to some sense of restored equilibrium, some renewed understanding of who I am and what I'm meant to be. I think of the friends who saw a shy, awkward kid, and helped me to come out of my shell just a little, who loved me unreservedly for who I was, and who I think understood that under that awkward exterior was someone who wanted very much to connect with those around her. I think of the teachers who saw past the sullenness and sarcasm of my teenaged years and helped me to better understand my own strengths and talents, and did so kindly and gently, and, in a way, helped ease my transition into young adulthood. 

I think of the lovely neighbor I once had, who worried that I worked too much, and who took it upon herself to check on me and bring me food, and to mother me when I was far from the family and friends with whom I'd grown up. I think of the co-workers who, during an extended illness (and again during recovery from a major surgery) came not just to drop a casserole on my table and then scurry off, but to actually spend time with me, laughing and talking about everything in the world, and making my heart a little lighter. And I of course think of the friends who were fiercely protective of me when my heart, which had been slowly cracking, one betrayal at a time, suddenly broke into a million pieces after a particularly bad breakup. I think of all the people I've met in the course of moving to yet another city, whether they became friends, or whether I met them once and never saw them again, who found a way to make my day a little brighter and to stoke the fires of my faith in my fellow man. Most of these actions weren't enormous or stereotypically 'heroic'. But, collectively, they are a pattern of little lights, that became something like a constellation of kind and compassionate deeds. 

And, as with Orion, I look for that pattern when I am uncertain, or worried, or feeling alone or misunderstood. They, too, have become a talisman, in their own way. They help me to steer back to where I need to be, and once again, I'm more sure of my place in the world because of them.


  1. Thank you :) And I hope you recognized yourself in there!

  2. I was just rereading this and some of your other entries, Jen. I miss you, and also your writing. :)

  3. Aw thanks! And your timing is spooky. I've been working on some entries to get me started posting again, now that school is done, etc. :)


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