“…our bodies are made of star-stuff…We are made of universal and divine ingredients, and the study of the stars will not let us escape a wholesome and final knowledge of the fact.” Albert Durrant Watson, 1918, The Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Volume 12, Number 3, Astronomy: a Cultural Avocation.
“We are stardust, we are golden, and we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden…” Joni Mitchell, Woodstock, 1970
It’s impossible to see ourselves as made of star stuff, of something divine, when we turn on the television and witness terrified party-goers in Vegas scrambling away from some crazed gunman shooting into the crowd. It’s impossible to believe we are star stuff when we hear on the news that a bomb was dropped on some village halfway around the world. Only, that bomb wasn’t dropped on “some village halfway around the world”. It was dropped on a gaggle of six-year-olds who, a split second before, were giggling and playing ball in the empty lot on the corner; dropped on mothers rocking babies, or sitting at sewing machines, making clothing to be sold for food money at the Bazaar. That bomb was dropped on grandfathers fishing with grandsons; on lovers loving. Bullets piercing people who felt what I feel, bombs dropped on people who felt what you feel. People who had hopes for their future and dreams for their children, just as we have: dead. And some other human being pushed the button on them.
All the talk about it doesn’t seem to change anything. Maybe the stardust we are made of doesn’t elevate us, doesn’t give us a spark of the divine. Maybe it is as cold and glittering and unfeeling as the pricks of diamond light we see when we look up at the stars at night. Maybe it’s that frigid, that uncaring. Look around you: some people are pushing all the wrong buttons.
But then, there were people in that Vegas crowd, just as terrified as everyone else, who grabbed the hands of strangers and tried to drag them to safety.
These people walk among us, too.
A ROOFTOP COMMUNITY SAVED BY A STREET GANG
I saw a documentary on a hurricane that left Southern towns under water. The details of date and hurricane name don’t matter, what matters is that there was an apartment complex filled with the working poor as well as elderly who were physically unequipped to outlive the storm surge, the lack of uncontaminated food, the lack of drinkable water. One man in his late forties could have gotten out: he could have left the elderly to face their watery graves, he could have allowed the gang members who were holed up there to rape the young women and their children and to steal any valuables in their looting of the apartments. But this man stood up against the gang, took on the mantle of Protector, got the gang members to understand that they were in as much of danger of drowning as anyone else, and employed them in getting people to safety on the roof. Resistant at first, the sharpest of those boys saw that the strength of their gang affiliation was nothing in the face of storm surge. They needed the very people they had come to harm. And those people needed them. An esoteric community arose on a rooftop that day.
Hours passed and no helicopters stopped to help. Eventually, the Protector climbed down to the street (now coursing with rushing storm surge), and found boats, which he jump started. Then he began the process of getting his huddled roof-dwellers down to the boats. He and his previously resistant helpers motored everyone to higher ground while a late-coming helicopter crew landed high above and rescued the elderly who were unable to do the stairs.
Many lives were saved that night due to a single, unheralded man who stepped into the role of protector, used his ingenuity and his resolve to ensure that a gang would not harm his building’s residents, but would be part of a rescue effort instead.
Did he know when he woke that morning the courage he would find within himself?
These people walk among us, too.
THE SIMPLE GIFT OF A SMILE IN A HELLHOLE
The buzzer sounds and the metal doors open on visiting day. The people who occupy The Land of the Living, the people who live outside these high cement walls, file in to pay calls on the incarcerated. And some unknown middle-aged woman happens to turn and look into the face of a prisoner she has not come here to see. He lowers his head: embarrassed to be where he is, embarrassed by what he has done, embarrassed by this woman who smiles at him now, as if he was her own son. This is a place of broken dreams and self-hatred, where fences are topped with razor wire. But she smiles at the broken-caged-lonely stranger, as if he is Human. As if he has dreams like she has dreams. As if he loves just as she loves. As if he is worthy of kindness…
He responds with a hesitant, grateful smile. She has stepped into his shoes and she has felt his crushing humiliation, his sense of worthlessness, the desperate gratitude that something as simple as a smile produced in him. The guard hurries her along and she can do no more…but, for now, she has done more than enough.
These people walk among us, too. The world can be unkind, but remember, these people walk among us, too.