I know very little about stars and constellations. “That is the North Star,” my dad would say, pointing to a speck in the sky – far brighter than the rest, sure – but a speck, like all the others, nonetheless. The sky has a marvelous but complicated language of its own, which always leaves me guessing. When I look up, I am constantly astounded by its bigness, by the inexhaustible display of twinkling lights. It makes me feel small and finite, like everything will always be too big, too far, and too wide.
But perhaps it is our smallness that leaves us constantly wanting. The first maps were in fact constructed through the art of looking up, a practice that often made the earliest philosophers and cartographers wonder as to the real expanse of things. Brilliant thinkers like Ptolemy, Eratosthenes, and Mercator studied and deciphered the unspoken language so they could lay out the entire world – drawn on thin parchment, carved on stone, or etched on the backs of calves. These maps found their way to the hands of famed explorers like Marco Polo and Columbus, who sailed towards uncharted seas, guided too by the steadfastness of stars.
Where does it end? What else is out there? The sky invites plenty of questions that remain suspended and unanswered despite all our efforts to understand it. It’s fascinating. In the past few months, I’ve been taking more and more photos of the night sky because it has a kind of beauty that is mysterious, serene and not immediately obvious (especially to city dwellers like me, who see only but a fraction of its beauty). It takes patience, rewarding only those who take the time to lie down and really gaze at it.
And what do the stars think when they gaze back? They look at us and see the stuff of dreams, perhaps. We have the capability to yearn, explore, and love. To search for meaning. To find and go after what we define to be happiness. To go through the motions and struggles of being human. It isn’t always pretty, and it isn’t always easy. But it’s raw and real. We’re alive – that’s the dream.
When I stare at the sky long enough, a slight shiver creeps up my spine as the enormity becomes more and more obvious, as if the darkness could engulf and consume me in minutes. You are just a dot, it whispers. But I am not. The fear of not knowing who is telling the truth will always be there, I think. But that only gives us humans the urge and boldness to conquer our smallness and look towards bigger things.
“The simple message here is this: we’ve done our work in this place, for the inhabitable world is laid down on the back of a calf. So what remains for us mere mortals? Only miracles, a higher calling, and things forever beyond our grasp.” (Simon Garfield, On the Map)
*Photos were taken during a recent family trip to Tagaytay*