“We are stardust, we are golden, we are billion year old carbon” ~ Joni Mitchell.
When I first decided I wanted to write I bought a subscription to a magazine called Writer’s Digest. There were many helpful articles such as how to get published, how to jumpstart ideas, and other tips and suggestions. I had never really thought about the mechanics of writing before. I had been an avid reader all my life, but I learned to start noticing things when I read, observing how a story was crafted; the use of good dialogue to move a story forward; the concept of ‘show, don’t tell.’ It also meant that I became a little critical of the writing of others, now that I was being more observant.
One aspect of story writing is to decide who will be the narrator. Will there be one person who we get to know the best, seeing things from their point of view? Of course, if you tell the story in first person you have no choice. Some writers choose the ‘omniscient’ point of view, so that you know what all of the characters are thinking. Although that makes it easier for the reader to perhaps understand the motivation of each character, it also can make it harder to decide who to identify with. I once read a very critically acclaimed, prize winning novel (actually I never finished it) where the author did an excellent job of writing from multiple points of view (male, female, gay, straight, old, young). I couldn’t decide who was the person I was supposed to care about, so I was not motivated to get to the end!
When we look at our lives, there are some people who never get to read the full story. The other day I read an article by a woman who discovered she was adopted when she was a teenager. To learn at that age was quite confusing, but it explained why she didn’t look like her parents. Her birth mother, her adoptive mother told her, was white, married, but had gotten pregnant for a black man (this was in the USA in the 60s). So the daughter was raised by a middle class black couple. She went through another identity crisis some years later when she took a DNA test which told her that she had a very low percentage of ‘black’ blood in her, that she was mostly white. Having grown up in the black culture, she was quite confused. That was in the early days of DNA testing. As we now understand, race is not something which can be detected in your DNA (it is not a biological construct), but rather your DNA says what part of the world you could have come from. At that time the science was a little sketchy. Years later, she repeated the test, and not only did it say that she had a larger percentage of DNA originating in an African country, it also introduced her to a half-sister. Her sister had the same mother (although a different, also black, father) and had a similar story of confused identity having also been adopted. They later met the older siblings, the white children of the mother and father. Truth is sometimes stranger than fiction.
So here is another interesting fact. Almost one fifth of our body weight is comprised of carbon, and it turns out that the origin of life-giving carbon is from meteors which crashed into the earth billions of years ago. So Joni was right, we are star dust! And that thought is so beautiful, that every single person on earth is formed from the stars, that it helps to make this whole divided world look so foolish. Of course, we all may have our own opinion, or our own origin story for the beginning of this planet, or this human race, or indeed the universe, but if we look for the scientific explanation, it is still quite beautiful.
The Sanskrit word ‘namaste’ honors the concept that each one of us carries the light, and shines the light of those ancient stars: ‘the divine in me bows to the divine in you’, a quite beautiful greeting indeed. But it also reminds us that regardless of the outer appearance, we all have the same origin. If indeed we could see the world through the eyes of another, that would move us a long way towards compassion and empathy. This week has brought us yet another interesting confrontation with the racist past (and present) of the USA. When we do not honor the divine in others we can participate in activities that mock or demean a whole group of people. And then instead of starting honest dialogue, our leaders try to laugh off their insensitivity and ignorance.
It has been challenging indeed, over the past few years, to try to imagine life from the perspective of another, especially one whose ideas, beliefs, and values seem to be out of step with our own. We tend to associate, to keep company with, those who resemble us, who think like us, and do not move outside of those groups. At a church service recently I was reminded that a belief system can be used to divide, for if I believe that one way is the true way, then anyone whose belief system is different from my own is to be shunned and pitied, or must be converted to my way of thinking.
But if I want people to see things the way I see things, I must be prepared to also see things from their point of view. Until we move beyond our comfort zone and meet people in their environment, we may never be able to overcome these artificial, man-made barriers.
This Friday morning I hope that your star dust is alive and shining bright, and that you can help us to spread awareness and empathy in your small corner. Try and imagine life through the eyes of another, whether it is the unwashed, homeless pan-handler on the corner, or the bigoted, arrogant loudmouth on your TV. It was the White Queen in Alice in Wonderland who recommended imagining impossible things. Perhaps that is all it takes, for us to imagine the impossible, and then change the world!
Have a wonderful weekend, Family!