Monday, March 05, 2012

Starry Sky, Life and Death

It's a magnificent sight, the evening sky now. In the West, the irrepressible 'evening star' Venus glows with such luminosity that you want to extend your hand and touch it. Above it is Jupiter, not as bright but compelling nonetheless. Overhead, the moon is swelling as it moves eastward toward the Diablo Range. But the eastern sky belongs to Mars with its twinkling reddish hue. In the north, the two pointers of the Big Dipper are oriented up and you can easily trace their line to locate the Polaris to the left.

Last week, on February 24, the crescent moon was below Venus and just above the western horizon. The next night it had moved between Venus and Jupiter, forming an almost perfect right-angle triangle. (Pythagorean Theorem, anyone?) The next two days brought much-needed rain to the Santa Clara Valley and clouds covered the sky. A night later, the moon had moved past Jupiter near Orion. The pink plum-cherry blossom have been out in profusion along the quiet avenues and appear like snowflakes in reflected light as you look up to drink in the beauty above.

But tonight the moon has gone far past Orion. In two nights or so, the full moon will rise big and yellow-orange above the hills and one will be overwhelmed by the ineffable beauty of the March sky.

What is it about the sky, particularly when it is so star-studded, that compels us to consider other perspectives? What exactly are we after in life? Fame, glory, wealth, happiness? Does it really matter, after we have reached a certain level of satiety, to add more? Is it worth it, this relentless pursuit of more? Does it in any way enhance our insignificance?

A dear aunt passed away a month ago and I just heard that uncle (they were married for 50 years) has died today, in the same hospital, in the same ICU unit. Both of them refused medications and the experiments that doctors wanted to run on them. They were determined to leave this life with dignity and they did, surrounded only by their loved ones. No tubes, no surgeries, no medical intrusions into the sacred. Both accepted death with uncommon grace and I cannot but think that uncle has left to join his beloved. If he could look at the sky last night, the final night of his life, I think he would have known more than ever before in his heart that love transcends all.

The seasons come and go and the earth renews itself with rain and becomes brown again, and the ancient cycle continues. The old move on and their grandchildren grow up. Someone departs, someone arrives. For all our striving and advances, the sum of human joys and sorrows remain more or less constant across centuries. The planets and the stars swim along in their orbits, unhurried and unchanging, reminding us only of those things that matter, if we take the time to see and listen.

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