Breathe It In

breathe it in

Davy - presumably not high.

I've been reading a lot about the emergence of science in the romantic age. It was a grand time. An era when hot air balloons were dangerous miracles and man finally began to discover the invisible parts that make his whole. As I’ve swept through the breakthroughs of the men and women that came before us, it can be easy to look on the fundamentals of their research without the proper amount of awe. After all, the world I live in was built on those fundamentals - we now find ourselves reaching for higher things.

Humphrey Davy was one of the leading lights of the romantic age. He contributed greatly, but one of his most notable triumphs was the discovery of the benefits of nitrous oxide. He performed gas experiments on himself - inhaling everything from carbon monoxide to carbonic acid. Of course this kind of guinea pig approach resulted in many late nights, long headaches and bouts of vomiting. His work with nitrous oxide was both the most fruitful and most fun. He documented the effects of the gas on himself during each experiment and in the aftermath. His notes read like a delirious drug dream analyzed with a scientific scalpel. Upperclass men and women volunteered to be his test subjects - each one happy to contribute to science if it meant they got to be as high as a kite without the judgment of their peers. (Okay, there was a little judgment. Some people speculated “sexual indiscretions” occurred during the experiments with each subject a happy participant. I can neither confirm nor condemn this. Get crazy, ya old birds.)

Without really meaning to, I found myself sniggering a bit at this great man and his great discovery. At this knowledge seeking from a more provincial time. Of course, I am only able to do this when my eyes are half closed and my brain disengaged. When in that state, it is too easy to feel superior because of the knowledge we have through no effort of our own. Of course in reality, Davy’s experiments were groundbreaking and dangerous and eventually gave birth to anesthetics - a discipline that didn’t exist before his great find. During his time, pain wasn’t truly something to be avoided, it was something to be borne. His discovery of the pain obliterating effects of nitrous oxide slowly caused a shift in our understanding of the nature and necessity of pain. Anyone who has ever been in surgery owes a great debt to him. When my eyes are fully open and my brain in place, I can see that his discovery still feels new and forces me on to thought and discovery of my own.

Which is truly all a long winded way to say this: Don’t be upset or discouraged by the pace or depth of your own personal insights and discoveries. What may appear provincial to the half-sighted is truly world changing to those willing to see. Sometimes you have to inhale a lot of nonsense to reach one good conclusion. (Note: we are talking in the metaphor here, not actively encouraging drug use.) And finally, there is no higher truth, there is only truth. Any piece of it you can grasp is precious and worthy of you - no matter what other revelations are to come. Don’t be discouraged. Don’t be better than. Don’t be afraid. Keep your eyes and spirit open.

Here’s to the Great Experiment.

It Remains


My little stargazers. 

Zuzu loves the stars.

She has felt a kinship with them since she was a baby. "Star!" was one of her first words and for years we could not leave the house without playing a game of  find the star. There is a star on the bus stop! There is one on the mall! There is one tattooed onto that man’s arm! Star! Star! Star! She loved them like she knew they mattered and I loved her all the more for it.

It has been about awhile since the last time she shouted out “STAR!” because we passed one on a bank sign, but she still adores them. When we go out at night her eyes seek the sky first and sometimes we pretend we can count them like so many pebbles in our hands.

A few weeks ago I went out and bought some books on space. My little girls will never get to touch the stars but reading can take them close enough to feel their heat. We learned about constellations and luminosity and that there are some stars that can guide you home. There were moments when she marveled and others when she wondered when we would move on to her, “JASMINE BOOK! MOMMY! IT IS RIGHT HERE! LOOK AT HER NECKLACE! OH, IT IS SO PRETTY!” She is nothing if not well rounded.

Her introduction to great and wondrous space went very well until we got to the part of the book that said that our sun is actually a star.

“No, Mommy.”

“No? No, what?”

“The sun is not a star! It can’t be! It is yellow. And it is big. I can see it during the day time! Stars are white and they only come out at night. The sun is not a star!”

“Oh, sure honey, it is. The sun is just really special, because it is our star! And it is so close we get to see what it really looks like. We are really lucky to have a star with us even in the day time.”

“Oh no, Mommy, it is not a star. Stop saying that.”

And then she took the book, closed it and turned away for the night.

It has been two weeks since then and she hasn’t changed her mind. It comes up out of nowhere, at the grocery store, during other stories, in the bath.

“Mommy, the sun is not a star.”

And I take her little cheeks in my bigger hands and tell her the same thing every time,

“Honey, I am never going to lie to you. The sun is a star. But we can wait to talk it about it until you are ready, okay? You’ll get there and when you do the sun will still be a star. No rush.”

And then she turns away angry and confused and unwilling to listen.

My little girl who would change astronomy to fit her world, I know just what she is thinking. The stars are her treasures in the dark night sky. They are her friends on long drives and the fairy dust on top of every bedtime dream. They are story and mystery and shoot across the sky wishes. The sun cannot be a star because it is there every day. There is nothing special about the sun. And stars are special.

Someday soon when she is ready to listen, I will tell her what an extraordinary thing the sun really is. My goodness, girl. That star is close enough to redden your skin and grow your favorite flower. It is the source of your energy and the literal light in your life. The fact that it is every day expected and every day risen does not make it less. It makes it more, it makes it everything.  And I will tell her to never be afraid of what is true. Because the truth lights a dark world with more might than even the sun.

This won’t end with the stars. I know there will be times she feels unprepared, when she doesn’t feel ready for the realities waiting to be learned. It is alright. She’ll get there, we all will. And when we do, the truth will still be the truth. And the sun will still be a star. And the light will be bright enough to light the darkest places.

There’s no rush.