As a child, I watched the stars.
I never asked the question, “What am I looking at?” Of course I was curious, but there was actually a deeper magic at work. I didn’t ask because it felt right to dream. To wander through the night sky and wonder as I explored this mysterious relationship, my birthright. Stories burned in my heart; songs came through me, and as quickly as they had begun, they ended—a revolving door of creativity and art.
At that age, I didn’t care to know “what.” Instead, I liked to ask myself “why.” Why was this experience like nothing I had ever known? I wanted to hold onto the truth I had found—that it felt right to watch and dream of a world beyond ours that I knew nothing about, but somehow seemed to know me.
We exist in a strange time. The ancestry of our past, the voice of what once was lingers somewhere far deeper than our hearts. Yet we live and breathe in this modern world amidst the lights and expectations of what it means to be human in the 21st century.
We grow up fast these days, a constant drip feed of perspective and culture fed to us. We have ready access to most any question we can formulate, with a host of answers on every end of the spectrum available via the internet. The mystery of “The Big Wild,” grows smaller in our hearts. Yet the stars still watch, and even with all of our science, something seems unwilling to be forgotten.
As we wake in the early morning light, we can still feel the pulse of this question Google cannot answer, for it’s a question without words. This nameless enigma burrows deep into the fabric of our being, our marrow, our flesh, and like a gentle wind, whispers at the embers of our spirit, igniting something deep—only to be set aside with the coming of day as we step back into the lights, cameras, and action. Time and again, we have these moments that offer a reminder of the mystery of our birthright.
In my short years on this planet, I have been blessed to have felt its love and despair, its glory and defeat, from which I have grown to understand the distinction between right and wrong. Yet there is no category I wish to tame me. As human beings, we are never just one moment. We are not just firefighters, or actors, or homeless. We’re not just friends and lovers and family members. We are boundless.
I am an artist, a storyteller and adventurer—created in the city, yet raised in the mountains. I am a warrior and a healer. A climber and an anchor. I’ve witnessed moments that in their brevity have brought tears to my eyes, making me reflect, again and again, on their true weight and significance. Some of the smallest things, somehow, take up the biggest spaces in our hearts. So then, I wonder, just how much space does a small thing like Earth really take up in the universe?
It was these little things, in all of their immensity, that suffocated me with an ephemeral weight upon the passing of the person who had shared them with me. Someone I treasured very much. I was eclipsed in this darkness, and though my feet eventually found the ground once more, a millennium seemed to pass inside me as my heartbeat slowed to a stop.
But in this quiet, I found something—or perhaps I was found.
This quiet asked me “why”—the same “why” I had asked when I was just a boy.
Like a dagger digging in, it seemed to repeat this, stabbing again and again, rattling what life I had left in me, invading the very sanctum that makes me who and what I know myself to be.
The “why” wasn’t for her—it wasn’t for my loss. The “why” was for the burn at the back of my soul—my ancestry, my marrow.
“Why” was me.
We go through our lives gulping down undigested experiences, taking on responsibilities that have nothing to do with who we really are, or perhaps, who we want to be. We can only truly know ourselves through the reflection of the mirror we call life, yet we pick jobs and fall into routines that reflect only a ghost of what we love or dream—all for the security of another day that holds these same limitations and regrets. We do what kills us for food and health insurance and a roof over our heads.
We struggle to survive so that we can live, when we are simply living to die.
But in our hearts, we are dying to live.
The truth is, I want change. But I don’t necessarily want us to change, nor for our beliefs to change. I want our beliefs and us to be change.
There is a seed—the “why,” of who we are, the root of all awareness, love and gratitude, patience and perseverance—buried right beneath the surface of the dirt we call “rules.” Do not be fooled. These social norms, structures and laws were created by flesh and blood, just like you and me—flawed and beautiful individuals who are only human. These systems—some good, some bad—are nonetheless limitations we can choose to follow, or not.
We can take what serves us into our futures, and let go of what is no longer healthy for our lives. We can be unafraid to weave our true stories, to make our dents on the bubble of the society. We can embrace ourselves and believe we are legends. There is no time to waste.
When we live in balance with the luxuries and tools we have been given in the modern age, we thrive. But when we’re out of balance, we forget the seed and our roots. We forget respect for our natural resources and thus, we forget to respect nature—not even realizing that in so doing, we directly disrespect ourselves. We throw in the towel, abandoning the storm that is swirling in all of us, that fire in which heroes are forged and passion is tempered to love and prosperity.
We give away our freedom and our dreams for security and comfort.
Our prison has been handed down to us in a neat little package equipped with a microwave for easy poison and a television to eat our lives away. No one need take our freedom away in this day and age—we give it up perhaps unknowingly, but still willingly, for some 4G LTE and a wider flatter screen.
These things, when left unattended, consume and devastate our lives by helping us forget the weight of what we feel in the quiet of the early morning light. That pulse I spoke of—call it your spirit, call it your atlas—is the compass of who we are that always points true, even if we choose to never follow it.
But just as we have learned to forget, we can choose to remember. Just as we have been taught what to learn, we can be taught how to learn. To think for ourselves. To reach for our own unique connection with being alive. If we can learn to sing, we can learn to dance, and if we dance, we can learn to celebrate life.
I’m not advocating that you take a hammer to your television, or go out and quit your job so you can flail around in rebellion, trying to grasp what truly makes you happy. But I am asking you, to simply ask, “Why?”
We love to ask each other “what” we do. But we should learn to ask one another and ourselves, “why” we do. Water that seed. Take the shovel and dig down deep, unearth what truly gives us strength. Those passions, that wonder, that memory, or that dream burn brightly within us—often and especially the darker things get.
We are all told as children to reach for the stars. But we are never warned of how they burn. This pain leaves an impression, a spiritual scar deeper than any knife. This is what I found in the darkness after losing my loved one—in the star she left behind. Accept this burn. Let it fuel your beliefs, your wants and your dreams. Let it light up the atlas of all that you are and never give into apathy. Allow the child that lives on in all of us to never stop learning, never stop dancing, never stop asking “why?”
We don’t have to wait to wake up. And we don’t need to know what we want. We simply need to know, without question, that we want more. What we seek is seeking us—so let’s give it all that we have, and then some.
There is a philosophy that says, “Wherever we are is exactly where we should be.”
I would say this: We are exactly where we are supposed to be because we have chosen to be there. Don’t give your power away to a phantom universe, because that same universe exists within you. We are our own phantoms. We are our own limits. And we all have a choice. We can’t control the circumstances or events that are given to us, or the fact that bad things will happen to good people. All we can control is who we choose to be.
We might never end up where we thought we were supposed to go, but we will still look at the pants we wore, with all their stains and rips, and know that we lived—as long as we never stop trying.
Do not deny the truth that we feel when we lay with our backs to the earth and our hearts to the sky. Stay uncomfortable, and we will grow more then we could ever imagine.
We will inevitably fall in life, but falling allows us to conquer our fears. Our fears govern our investments—how we spend the time we’ve been given on this planet.
Where we invest our love, we invest our lives. So hold on to that star—no matter how much it burns—and find your “why.”
Author: Rainer Jundt
Image: Flickr/Hartwig HKD
Editor: Callie Rushton