Finding Your Way
The night sky is the place where I go when I am unsure of my path and need a guidepost from which to orient myself. Somehow, looking into the heavens, into worlds of long ago, I can find just the right point from which to venture forth with a sure course. There is something about being small and in the presence of something large that helps put the ordinary events of a day into perspective. Often, those events take over your existence and even you ability to organize and reason through them and create a situation from which everything seems askew.
The stars have always been a haven for man for it is from them that dreams evolve into a reality, if only that of myth, and still today they have the ability to move us—direct our thoughts, invade or moods, and become part of our dreams of the future—as we wish upon a star.
Life has always been a struggle and, although sometimes we have our daily struggles trivialized by phrasing like “in the good old days” or “when I was young”—but these statements only confirm that the struggle to find our way has been with us as long as we have been. When I look into the nights sky one of the first thing that happens is that I somehow feel connected. That connection for me is first to family members who have passed, then to people in general and finally to life itself. As this later connection manifests itself I often become overcome with feelings that can only be described as comforting—they are warm and surrounding, almost protective.
I believe that throughout your life there are times when you are so focused on living that you forget life. This realization came home to me just the other day as I was arriving at work. In the late winter in St. Louis one often finds that the moon remains as the morning breaks the darkness of night. That day was just such a morning and as I swung onto the parking lot, facing west, I noticed that the sky was unusually blue and clear. It was just before sunrise and I was musing to myself that in just a day or so we would reach the month of ‘Ala’, which for Baha’is like myself marks the beginning of our month of fasting. In just a few days I would neither eat or drink during the daytime—and I guess it was this that prompted me to take a long look at the western morning sky. Hung there was one of the most perfect full moons that I have ever seen. It was fully round and its surface was so clear that I almost had to stop. The drive from the road into the parking lot was slightly elevated from the western most part of the lot so that as you entered you had the feeling that you were looking down on the entrance to the building. This perspective seemed to magnify the sky and the moon, which at its angle of about 45 degrees already magnified by the earth’s atmosphere, seemed to hang over a smaller more distant parking lot with some of my cohorts slowly making their way across and toward the entrance of the building. The thing that caught my attention was that on this glorious morning with a to perfect moon I seemed to be the only one who noticed. It was almost as if I was the only one who was searching for a way and the others were simply repeating so many days that had come before. I wondered if they had ever looked into the sky and were awe struck by what they saw and the implication it held in terms of the relationship between a single human and the cosmos.
It was at that moment that I decided that our search for our way was one that could be both eclectic and mundane and that the difference was only one of degree. By degree we organize and live out our lives. By degree we formulate methods to interact with others. By degree we place ourselves within the ecosystem. By degree we formulate and develop our spiritual nature. The figures I saw before me were motivated by that same force that allows people to put their interests over those of their fellows. That allows them to disregard the laws that govern nature and the interactions of organisms with the physical environment. It is that which allows humanity to pass through the whole of existence believing and acting like their individual and cumulative actions good or bad are alright because they are motivated by human needs.
What then is our purpose? Are we so different from the other forms of life that live and have lived on the earth that we are governed by a unique set of rules which allow us to act within and without of the physical laws that apply to all other things across the cosmos? The purpose of humanity is to search for a way to both start and end the journey in such a way that our lives enhance those things around us, those things in which we come into contact. It is our ability to look into a future as yet out of reach and see something that has never been and then act in ways to facilitate that new reality. For this purpose humans have developed differently than any other creature that has existed on the earth. We are uniquely destine to charter a pathway along which all other things must pass or be left behind. For this reason it is incumbent upon each individual to be both materialistic and spiritual for only in this way can each of us find our way.
Through all time one reaches points at which we find it necessary to re-evaluate ourselves in light of what has happened and what is likely to lie ahead of us. This re-thinking of ones self can be both enlightening and depressing at the same time. The reason for this is that we are an amalgamation of thoughts and desires, of wishes and reality … all of which intermingle and blend – recombining based on current events to form our operational self. Our operational self is the self we rely upon each day to deal with the events, problems and decision requiring situations that we are faced with as we live our real lives. Our self, on the other hand, is an inner often hidden realization of what we would become if we were not faced with the problems and responsibilities of the real world. This self is what men reach for who dedicate their lives to thought such as Buddhist monks or others of similar detached lives. The search for a reality in the self is probably something that takes a lifetime of dedicated thought and study. For most of us, this realization of self, as opposed to our operational self, is reached momentarily at times of great elation and great sorrow. These extremes of emotion tend to reduce the distance between what is and what we perceive to be and allow us to attain our true self for a few moments. It is because of this that during these extreme times we often feel that we have reached total contentment, in the case of great elations, or of total understanding, at time of great sorrow. I remember a time of great sorrow from my youth – it occurred at the time of my grandfathers death. He was a gentle man, quite and unassuming – not a all what one might imagine a role model for a young person. I remember him as always talking in a calm quiet assured voice and always able to take in what ever was happening in such a way that it did not alter his personality or reaction to the world. He was strong in a hidden way … that is, and unlike his wife, his strength was one of resolve. He was a barber in a time when barbering was a minimal wage job requiring one to work 6 days a week and sometimes a little on the 7th day. He worked in a shop that smelled of leather and lotion and hair … a wonderful combination quite unlike anything that one might encounter in ones everyday life. He was a gentle man. The time that I am getting to came as he was about to be released from the hospital after suffering a minor heart attack. He had convalesced and was due to be released the next day and that night suffered, I believe, a fatal heart attack or stroke. I only remember being awakened late in the evening or possibly early hours of the morning by my parents saying we must go to my grandmother and grandfathers home, in a small rural town in central Illinois and that my grandfather was very sick. I was hurried into the car for a drive through the night, taking about an hour, to the little town some 60 plus miles northeast of my home in St. Louis. I can remember arriving and heading straight to the hospital, what at that time did not allow young persons up into the rooms. I was not to be deterred and simply made my way up to my grandfathers room despite the rules and comments of the nursing staff. I found him there with my grandmother. The room was quiet and only minimally lit and my grandfather looked and reached out for me as I entered the room. Upon later reflection this was the first indication that I was entering an unusual moment in my life. The reason I say this is because many years earlier my grandfather had suffered from cataracts and the surgery to cure the situation then was to surgically remove the lens from each eye and then after a long recuperation time replace the missing lens with very very thick glasses. If you consider this then it becomes apparent that at that moment in the lowly lit room and without his glasses my grandfather was for all intensive purposes … completely blind. I did not think of that but rather took his hand and stood by his bed. I don’t remember if we talked but I do remember the soft gentle feeling of his hands and fingers … worn smooth from a lifetime of running through other people hair and scalp. After that moment I have forgotten the next few hours probably due to my age, state of unrest and stress of the moment. I only know that later my grandmother told me of a short conversation between them that took place at some time that night … I almost think that she said it took place before our arrival. My grandfather told her that I had come to him in a dream and that I was dressed in white like a doctor. That I took his hand and told him that everything would be alright and for him not to worry. Whether reality or fantastic I have always felt and continue to do so today that I did come to my grandfather and that it was me that took him over the threshold from living to death. That somehow I helped him make the journey in such a way that there was no fear or stress for him, and I hope, upon his telling my grandmother – reduced the stress and anguish she felt. So, what is the point of all of this … well it is that at that moment, and even now with the retelling of the event, I am able to move myself from my operational self to my self and for a few moments find that place where I am completely content, completely confident and completely without fear or worry. That place where my values, abilities and dreams balance and make me perfect. It is this place that we often long for and cry for … it is this place we seek at time of trouble or great tribulation, and it is this place that we ultimately seek as we approach our own end-of-time.