What the Stars Tell Me

The stars, they mirror the millions
below the endless sky,
Each shining mote connected
in a dance as old as time.

The stars, they fall in tandem —
each in their earthward streak
joining a heart that cracks, that breaks,
with pain too much to speak.

They stars, they stand in silence
bearing witness to our grief,
Their permanence giving counsel
that this moment, too, is brief.

The stars, they shine in brilliance
reflecting our new-found joy,
shouting in exaltation
the wonders that this earth employs.

When the World Burns

My mind is on fire —
there is nothing to see
But the pain and suffering
that strangles me.

The world is in flames —
an endless, slow burn —
Spinning and wand’ring
as my soul yearns

To connect with another.
And yet my heart cries
for the wrongs it’s committed
and each dream’s demise.

Why am I this way?
Why am I still here?
Why do I still wander
When the goal never nears?

I speak of a Purpose,
of Meaning and Drive.
When has ever these things
in my heart ever thrived?

And so I still wander
and still do I yearn
for my Place to discover
and my Path to learn.

The Face of No-One

When the neighbors knock
on your splintered door —
Let them know
that No-One lives here.

When the garden grows wild
and the weeds choke the light —
Let them know
that No-One walked there.

When the clouds gather
and the Sun hides her face —
Let them know
that No-One came by.

No-One, who wanders
in the halls of their mind.
No-One, who suffers —
forgotten by mankind.

No-One, who sees
nothing
in their own reflection;
No-One, who holds
nothing
but the world’s rejection.

When the rivers freeze
and the oceans boil
Let them know
that No-One was there.

When the nations war
and the family squabbles
Let them know
that No-One’s to blame.

When the day darkens
and the Night never ends
Let them know
that No-One draws near.

No-One, who wanders
in the halls of their mind.
No-One, who suffers —
forgotten by mankind.

No-One, who sees
nothing
in their own reflection;
No-One, who holds
nothing
but the world’s rejection.

Private Grief

My sister died today.
They laid her in the ground,
Then danced about with daisy-chains
And threw them all around.

My sister died today —
The grass there never grows.
No sun or rain can e’er erase
The treasure Death had chose.

My sister died today —

And only I that know.
Her frozen eyes still follow me
Wherever I may go.

My sister died today.
I came for her — too late.
The life that housed her future bright
Into her tomb was made.

My sister died today.
And with her, all her dreams.
How cold the sun, how hollow sound
Of music, now, it seems.

My sister died today.
And with her, all my joy.
Can such a world which swallows hope
Be worth such great turmoil?

My sister died today —
And with her, my own heart.
Each shovelful of musty soil —
My soul it rips apart.

My sister died today.
For now, there is but pain —
Numb and bitter — and yet I hope
One day, to feel again.

The Twilit Sky

And so I have returned
to this place beneath the stars —
The heavens imparting secrets
in a language all its own.

Do you see it too, I wonder?
The very same twilit sky?
Do you also wonder at Venus’ glow
or at Virgo’s somber vigil?

Does it still hurt when
the moon rises full?
Does it still ache when
the stars respond in silence?

Enlightenment Now

I have a confession to make: I suffer from depression.

Whether it is due to chemical imbalances, hormones, life events, or what have you — it is a shadow that has chased me for over a decade.

But that is not why I am here before you today.

Today, I wish to share with you one of the greatest antidepressants I have ever come across.

No, it’s not pharmaceuticals. No, it’s not the latest hit on Netflix. (What’s a Netflix, anyways?) And no, I haven’t taken up ultra (or even full) marathons. At least, not yet.

Activities and pastimes only distract from deeper issues. What I needed was a complete realignment. A reboot. Something that would change how I think about anything and everything.

And I found it.

Lately, I’ve had my nose buried in Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now: A Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress. This recent winning from my local library was at first a consolation prize; they did not have my long-sought-after Pinker installment of How the Mind Works.

No matter. This ended up being exactly what I needed.

Pinker published this work in tandem (not in reaction) to the rise of Trump’s America and the rearing of populism and nationalism across the Western world. There has been a longer trend, Pinker argues, of shaming of the sciences, progressivism, and reason itself. We seem to be trapped in a world in which arguments and hatred spring from deep, irreconcilable roots of racism, tribalism, and backward thinking. We are often told that man is, at heart, irredeemable and evil, only out for himself and his own kin. Faced with the onslaught of man’s failure, we cling to the hope that a savior will come and deliver us from the madness of the world around us. At the same time, the newsstands and town criers bemoan that the world is on fire; the end is nigh.

Crime is up! War is everywhere! Terrorists are upon your doorstep!

Education has failed us and democracy is dying! We are worse off than ever!

This is due sadly in part because of news outlets’ need to stay in business. Writers and editors alike spring to headlines and stories that bring the most clicks, the most purchases: they are looking for that reptilian jolt fed by inflammatory and emotional messaging.

The same goes for scientists, policymakers, and many otherwise responsible citizens, stirring populaces to action with tales of dire conflict.

Unfortunately, this often has the opposite effect. Nihilism and fatalism grips the target audience, while anyone with an opposing point of view jeers and secludes back into their favored news outlets. In such a war of words, the population whips into a rabid frenzy of political posturing, polarization, and identity politics.

As much as I love words, Pinker shines upon the way out:

Look for the numbers. Along with its corollary: Anecdotes, trends do not make.

The ideals of the enlightenment hold us all to ever seek a worldview that best reflects reality — not just what we think is there. And data — robust, nonpartisan, long-spanning troves of data — gives us a picture of the world that steps outside of the cynical drain of logical fallacies.

Pinker, with an endless trove of graphs, data, facts, and references (75 pages of them) dispels all of our doubts as to whether or not humanity is on track to a brighter future. People, he shows, are living longer. Around the world, people are healthier, wealthier, more equal, more peaceful, safer, more democratic, and have an overall better quality of life than we ever have in the past 100, 200, or even 500 years.

That does not mean that the battle is not yet over — there is always more work to be done. We must ever be vigilant of our own cognitive biases and refrain from stoking arguments that distract from our common cause. And our world is not without its problems, seemingly smaller though they may be; our sensitivity to today’s racism, sexual harassment, and war is because in the short span of 50 years they has become utterly unacceptable. The older generations may cry “Snowflake!” — at the same moment they are being voted from their seats of political and social power. The game is changing.

And what is the end game? Humanism provides an answer, bereft of spiritual or political tinge: every human’s goal is to flourish. To always improve. To always come ever closer to achieving one’s true potential.

And, strangely enough, helping your fellow citizen to live a better, fuller, and healthier life helps everyone else to flourish as well — exponentially so.

How does this all help one suffering from depression? Well, for one thing, it helps one to take the headlines with a grain of salt.

For the other, I now have a weapon:

Question. Everything.

Including the darkness. ESPECIALLY the darkness.

Even when it crushes you with your failures, your insignificance. Even when it taunts that you can never be happy, never be fulfilled, never belong anywhere.

Because I am not my darkness; I make my own light.

The Stars of My Constellation

Life, too often it seems, has a way of getting the best of us.

After all, its endless barrage of trials and tribulations — and even its triumphs — seem random at best and intentional at worst. Fathomless depths of data and information confront us in our quest, confounding our best efforts. Sometimes it guides our hand safely (hunger driving us to eat), yet oftentimes it leads us astray (that beignet does NOT constitute a full meal, no matter how scrumptious-looking or tasty). Every day brings with it the weight of existence, of new problems, new strategies, new problems resulting from said strategies, all in a endless circle to circumvent our own physical and spiritual demise and of those closest to us.

And what of this endless circle? To what end do we fight these sisyphean battles, the exact same battles that have been fought, won, and lost by those before us?

What am I (and what are we) but an insignificant mote, buffeted by experiences and happenstance?

Indeed, the temptation to drown in that noisy void can be overwhelming. Yet there is a silken thread to follow here, holding us all from the depths.

That thread is your very own perception, your very own view of the world. It ties you to your past, to your memories and your reactions to them. It includes your present experience and every past event, memory, and impression that you use to process, collect, and act upon information new and old. With every thought and step, you weave your thread, drawing from the stuff of the universe as you pass through its chambers.

You connect the stars of your own constellation. You are the writer of your own tale.

And no matter the subject matter — the loss of a loved one, the thrill of reaching the mountaintop, the shame of failure — you yourself hold the pen. You cannot control the world around you. No one can.

But you alone can draw the connections. You alone can decide what it means.

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.

“Invictus” by William Earnest Henley