Our Connection to Strangers and Stardust
Miles from home, on the tiny island of Sark, I found myself on a cliffside, contemplating the sheer drop below
A wise man once noted that we are doomed to both suffer and to enjoy in solitude. Each of us is a lonely island, adrift; a self-contained universe.
That must be why, in our desperate hope to be understood, we paint, write, and compose music. These efforts ripple outward, traversing time and space.
An artist might be nothing but dust in the wind once their poems, paintings, or soaring melodies have found a home in your heart. These people are strangers, and always will be, but they’re also kindred spirits.
That’s why, miles from home, on the tiny island of Sark, I found myself on a cliffside, contemplating the sheer drop below. It was a spiritual quest at best and madness at worst.
At last, I had caught up to someone who had inspired and irrevocably changed me. I pictured author and painter Mervyn Peake standing right at that very spot, poring over a canvas, entirely nude — as legend has it—save for a sombrero. I could bridge the gap in terms of physical distance; the dimension of space if not time.
As the adage goes, you cannot step into the same river twice, you are not the same person, and it’s not the same river. The squall-rent coast of Peake’s time was lost to the ages.
I’m convinced sorrow resides in the gap between longing and satisfaction. The smaller the gap between imagination and consummation, paradoxically, the greater our disappointment.
Still, that feeling of continuity is why Carl Sagan’s famous line is such a comfort; humbled by the knowledge that we are inextricably linked, part of something far greater and grander than each of us alone. After all, didn’t Sagan tell us that “The nitrogen in our DNA. The calcium in our teeth. The iron in our blood” meant we were, all of us, star stuff?
It brings me peace to know that we are hewn from the same material, fundamentally alike. Though we are insignificant lumps of flesh and blood, destined for decay, we were wrought in magnificent fiery furnaces.
☆ We are star-stuff. ☆
More physics, here’s a thought: interpersonal connections are Newtonian. Every object attracts every other object in the universe; a gravitational pull holds everything together. Meaning, we are nothing but the gravity between us.
The ephemeral, fragile, and sometimes intangible connections between us and others: friends, family, and even the strangers hurtling through space on a pale blue dot — more Sagan — alongside us are the only things that matter. And, not to be discounted, our connection to those who lived and loved before us.
A woman in Japan’s Heian period once put brush to paper to immortalise, ‘A thing which fades with no outward sign — is the flower of the heart of man in this world’. She wrote this an entire millennium ago and it opens a rift in you here and now. It’s a line that’s lain in wait for you. It elevates you as all true art does, and then it annihilates you as great art does also. It crushes you underfoot much like the intractable march of time is sure to do. You’ll survive it, but then again, you’ll outlast your death too, won’t you?
They say you’re not truly gone while you remain in living memory. Your death is not the last time you draw breath; rather, it’s the last time your name is upon someone else’s lips. If you’re a thinker, a poet, a sculptor, you’ll have longer than most. You might even have forever. And isn’t that the most incredible legacy of all?
I envy those who speak long after they’re dead, and in doing so, ease the burden of those still struggling upon this mortal coil. How glorious it must be to forge connections beyond one’s finite existence.
Perhaps one day, a stranger will stand on a cliffside, in a cathedral, in a cave, trying to catch a glimpse of you, in a world you’ve long since departed.
Thanks for reading, Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays. I’ll see you all in 2 weeks.
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