Sometimes in life there are moments of clarity, when the great veil of our daily distractions is pulled back and we see the world as if for the first time. Last night as I stepped outside after class I had one of those moments. At 10 pm the campus was quiet except for the noise of a train sounding its horn in the distance. It floated across the still frozen lake, and echoed off of the buildings like the sound of a stone being dropped in a well. I paused on my walk to the car, and looked up into the depths of the night sky above.
Maybe it was a trick of the eye, or the effect of the orange glow of the lights in parking lot, but the moonless sky seemed to be a deep shade of purple. Stars were flickering clearly through the icy dark, like distant campfires in the heavens. It isn’t often we get this clear of a view of them in the city, and I paused to pick out the constellations. It is hard to imagine that for most of mankind’s existence the only light that shone at night was the light from distant galaxies. I wonder how different our feelings about the night would be without the comfort of electricity to light the world around us.
Would we huddle inside around the fire, sharing stories, and prayers to ward off the darkness of doubt? Or would we stride confidently into the starlit woods, our eyes keen to the movements of creatures unseen? We like to imagine our ancestors sitting around a fire in the darkness, creating myths and legends to explain the pale lights that glimmered overhead, but surely they must have been as commonplace to them as our own world is to us. The human brain seems wired to transform the mysterious into the mundane. Perhaps it is some tool of survival.
As the train echoes faded, and I turned back towards my car, I wondered what a life lived purely in the moment must be like. Has anyone ever truly achieved it? Has some Buddhist monk high in the Tibetan plateau found a way to push aside the distractions, and responsibilities of the world and live enraptured in the moment? Surely you cannot live your life staring into the blank expanses of the night sky, with no thought or worry of the world around you, without going insane. Too much light, or darkness will blind us eventually. Perhaps there’s a reason God hides behind a veil.