Star Wars have broken out in the Bonkers House. I came back from kettlebells last night in the church (yes, when it's too horrible outside we swing our bells in the Congregational Chapel, being careful to avoid the altar) just in time to catch the end of Stargazing Live on BBC2. Perched on the chair next to the fire I was trying to listen to the bit about black holes when Adrian walked in and talked all over it.
‘Ssssh,’ James and I chorused.
‘But it’s nearly over,’ he replied.
And indeed we’d missed the black holes entirely.
‘Sssh. I want to hear if they’re going to mention Dulverton,’ I said.
But the titles came up and that was that.
‘They probably won’t come after all,’ Adrian said. ‘The weather forecast is atrocious. Won’t be able to see a thing.’
‘But, but… Of course they will.’
He raised an eyebrow.
Adrian has been remarkably dismissive about the whole issue of Dulverton going dark for the BBC. Since I heard we were going to be asked to turn out the lights, I’ve been asking him repeatedly to fix the sensor light on our gate. This is supposed to come on obediently if anyone approaches at night (so any burglars will be able to see their way and won’t sue us for breaking a leg on the steps) but it’s broken, like most things here, and so is on permanently. I'd do it myself except...
‘I’d burn myself,’ he said. (yup, that's why I won't do it). ‘Anyhow, what’s the big deal?’
Then, today, he came back from town having spoken to our neighbour. ‘This BBC thing,’ he said. ‘It’s a bloody big deal, you know.’
Really? Well, stone the flipping crows.
‘There’s going to be police and wardens and everything. They’re going to stop people in cars and not let them go through.’ He looked irritated.
‘Well, of course they are,’ I said. ‘A whole bunch of car headlights isn’t exactly going to help the pitch black bit, is it? Anyhow, it’s not as if they’ve sprung it on us – the notices have been up for weeks.’
He frowned. ‘But I hate all this telling us what to do crap. Controlling bollocks.’
I raised an eyebrow. ‘Since when have you been so anti-establishment?’
As a founding member of the Carshalton Anarchist Front (Greyhound pub branch; complete with black beret and bandit mask) I’ve never been too fond of authority. But I really really want Dulverton to go really really dark. Why? Well, partly because if this comes off, it should help boost the tourism our town needs and deserves. But mainly because this is about stars! Stars. STARS.
Hundreds of billions of galaxies burning in universes. Stars so ancient that their light has taken millions, billions even, of years to reach us. We are seeing history, we are looking outside time. Stars talk to us of mind-freaking infinity, of crazy impossibility, of wild incandescence, of beatific transcendence. No wonder we try to transfer their qualities onto poor human substitutes – onto the shimmery pseudo gods and goddesses of Hollywood onto whom we project our own desire to shine, for immortality. For in the Pyramid texts of ancient Egypt the deceased was told to become the ‘imperishable star’ and hence live forever.
In alchemy the many conflicting parts of the self are brought together to form a supernova, the One. Equally the black hole has been equated with the nigredo – the ‘black blacker than black’ - of psychic fragmentation, of total despair. The soul moves outside the event horizon of space and time.
Okay, so maybe that’s a bit deep. But I think there’s another reason we should look up and stare at stars. Ren Warom touched on it in her comment yesterday. She talked about an experience that was ‘unnerving and humbling’, about the knowledge of how small we really are and how huge the universe is, and how it ‘blew the fuses in my head for a while.’
Yes. Yes, yes, yes. It does. It really does. But, you know, I feel it gives us the perspective we humans often lack. We see our reality as so firm, so certain. We think we have the god-given right to trample all over this planet, and all over our fellow inhabitants. Yet, if you look further, if you project yourself out there into the stars, you see, as Ren says, just how freaking small we are. Then think about our planet and where it fits into that immensity and everything suddenly feels very different. That’s not to say we’re unimportant or that we do not experience physicality around us. But we are not the big cheeses and our reality is not as rock solid as our senses soothe us.
It reminded me of this passage from Symphonic Bridges, talking about how the Earth’s structure is in direct contradiction to the stability that realists value so much.
“Beneath the crust and the brittle upper mantle (the lithosphere), the semi-fuel zone (asthenosphere) and the lower mantle – there is the boiling zone ‘D’, where the mantle meets the iron core: white hot fluid metal (5800 degrees Celsius). So, ‘How do we sleep while our beds are burning?’
This whole bizarre structure rotates on its axis, with the speed of a spot on the equator reaching 1670 km/h. If we add to this the dizzying speed of the earth’s revolution around the sun: 107280 km/h, we’ll see ourselves on a monstrous, breathtaking Ferris wheel, suspended in the infinite space together with other ‘mechanisms’, similar and different… Countless.”
Scary? Maybe. But awesome. Madly awesome. Bit freaky maybe? Yes. Of course. But we have to try to grasp what we can; we have to have the heart and guts to move out of our comfort zones.
“This is what conscious living is about,” Marek continues. “To be aware of the context (as much as we can grasp). Then having our feet firmly fixed on the ground will acquire an entirely different significance.”
So tonight I will be missing Zumba. I’ll be out with the rest of the town, in the dark, concentrating on breaking up the clouds so we can see into the sky. I’ll be thinking about my place, not just in the world but in the universe, in the cosmos, in beyond that event even. Hey, you might see me on television. Except... umm…hopefully it’ll be too dark to see. J
PS – just as I was writing this, Adrian came along and stood at the threshold of my turret.
‘That light,’ he said.
‘Yes,’ I said.
‘Well. We could turn off the electricity from the mains.’
I smiled. ‘Yes, we could.’
Now why the freak didn’t I think of that??