Catching the Stars

“How do you catch the stars?” she asked.

The childish voice lisped the question. The little toes curled in the soft grass. The curious eyes captured the wonder of glinting diamonds flecked in a darkening sky.

But I could not answer. And so I chose to reply instead.

“You can’t catch the stars.” I buttoned my voice into my best ‘I-am-the-reasonable-adult-in-this-conversation’ tone.

“You can’t catch the stars,” I repeated. “They’re too far away. Too foreign. Too, well… too much.”

“Oh.”

And with that the conversation was closed.

But her mind was not, and she spoke again into the velvety darkness.

“But I meant how do YOU catch the stars. Because… sometimes… I come outside at night just to catch them.”

There was no condemnation in her tone. No judgement of my rational disbelief. Just a calm, factual statement of impossibility.

“I see.” I really didn’t.

There was a pause while she wandered and I wondered.

“So,” I adjusted my collar to fit a ‘midly-interested-but-still-confident-in-my-superior-knowledge’ tone, and dared to return the question.

“So, how do YOU catch the stars?”

She glanced at me sideways, smiled patiently, lifted chubby fingers to twirl in the silvery glow.

“I catch the stars with my hands.”

And with that she was off, skipping through the inky tendrils of night, dancing and giggling beneath the ebony froth of the sky, chasing and grasping and catching the stars with tiny hands of joy.

I watched. I stood, frozen on that narrow trapeze wire between logic and wonder. And as I wavered in solitary disbelief, I saw it.

A shooting star, falling from the heavens.

It fell, curving and glowing in fierce and glorious descent. Painting its blazing light across a black canvas sky. Brushing the star dust from its trail and shaking the clouds with tinkling music.

Down, down it fell; closer and closer still.

Its glow lit up my eyes.
Its beauty held my breath.
Its wonder lifted my hand to catch its fall.

And suddenly I was there. Lost in the moment, captured in the magic, defying the impossible and tasting its sweetness.

Catching the stars.

© Emma McGeorge, Oct 2015

 

Beautiful

He stood alone.

A silent sentinel, lost in anonymity amongst the hundreds of cedars in the forest.

He stood, twisted and uncomely.

The other trees were of varying sizes and figures, but all were tall and stately.

His grotesque figure and crooked scar set him apart like a leper from the clean – they are both men, but the leper is also not a man.

He stood, knowing that his misery brought no beauty to a beauty-hungry world, yet unable to do other than stand in disfigured solidarity, his crooked tattoo a mute shout.

When the woodsmen came, he prayed that they would take him from this forest where his ugliness was so apparent. The sharp ring of the axe seemed to toll imminent freedom. But when the last tree had fallen and the dying ringing had been swept away in the breeze, his bark remained untouched. Unwanted.

He stood alone, a scarred figure on a scarred landscape.

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In his lonely and ignoble existence, it seemed a cruel hand that nurtured beauty in the world around him, exhibiting it before his longing soul, yet never allowing him a taste of the unknown.

The sleek and elegant crane swept by in effortless flight, and it was beautiful.

The silver river gracefully wound its way through the valley below, glinting with liquid shards of sunlight; it, too, was beautiful.

The little sparrow carefully laid her smooth, blue eggs in his crooked branches, and though he could hold such beauty, he could never own it.

The fields bowed their golden heads of grain to the wind, round grapes clustered on curling vines and quivered with the pure joy of life, the sunset flung glorious pastel colours across a canvas sky.

Beauty pulsed around him in relentless, wondrous waves.

It danced in the date palm, tiptoed through the lilies, echoed in the sultry song of the dove.

It was alive and real and utterly unobtainable to him.

He both longed for beauty and cursed it at the same time, and hung his graceless head in sorrow and relief when the night softly covered his scars and shame with darkness.

 flower

It was fitting that the one who finally took him away from the desolate landscape was a shrivelled and scarred old man, who picked his way through the forgotten stumps with an equally scruffy mule.

The tree felt no sorrow as the unsightly pair dragged him down the mountain, nor did he feel any joy; the only emotion that clung like a weary stain was emptiness.

In a run-down, lopsided shack, he passively bore the ministrations of the hunched little man. His outer branches were lopped off, and both ends of his trunk were cut roughly with a saw.

He wondered what anyone could want with his battered body. He wished he could be blind to the jagged scar that tore along the length of his frame. But he was all too aware of his own ugliness.

The man began to tear off the rough outer wood from his trunk. Shame overwhelmed him as his naked body was turned to the light. Stripped of his bark, the dark scar was even more obvious.

It was not a deep mark, but years of exposure on the hill, and rain and dirt slowly seeping deep into his tender wound and then drying, had marked him permanently. Not enough to cause him to rot and blissfully perish, but plenty enough that he was forever stained. The mottled colour spread in mismatched patches along the scar, heightening the defect and blemishing the smooth wood hidden underneath.

He stood alone, silent. The huffing old man laboriously cut him down further into coarse beams, rugged planes of wood.

And he knew then; he would never be beautiful.

flower

Is it any wonder that he was the first to hear the ugliness of the voices?

He recognized the familiar trait like an artist recognizes his own brush stroke in a painting.

The voices were loud and demanding, and the crippled old man was swept before them and across the decrepit workshop to yank him away from his post. One beam was laid along the workbench, and the other was hurriedly laid on top and hammered into place with large iron nails. Then the old man gladly handed him over like a dispensable entity, and he was swept away in a harsh sea of malevolence.

Out in the garish sunlight, he was even more aware of his unsightly scar and coarse, unrefined lengths. His ugliness seemed to please the crowd, for it fitted the mood that was throbbing beneath the surface. He saw it in the faces and heard it in the shouts. The scent and sounds of ugliness threaded through the air to settle on him like a disease.

He could not understand the magnitude of this ugliness that clogged the atmosphere, nor why they had added him to the grotesqueness of the scene.

Then he saw the man.

flower

He stood alone.

His face was twisted with pain. Long ragged scars colored his torn robe with red ribbons. Large purpling bruises were rapidly forming lumpy ridges on the smooth, brown cheeks, and his battered eyes were half-shut and leaking tears and dirt.

He stood, twisted and uncomely. The agony rippled through the powerful, muscled body. The anguish poured from the weeping eyes. The crown of ugliness crunched the noble head, tearing holes and caverns that overflowed with the dark red color of pain.

Once, perhaps, he had been a man. Now he was a crippled, maimed mess.

He stood, a remnant of a man. A picture of unspeakable rejection. Ugliness.

Crushed and colored with blood and bruises, the ugliness was reflected in the hateful faces of the crowd and in the rough beam cross that was now thumped onto his shoulders, scar side up.

The man staggered through the streets amidst clods of dirt, streams of spit and the continual poundings of anger and disgust. The tree was sickened by this overwhelming ugliness that mercilessly whipped himself and the broken man. He felt the weight of it as heavily as the man who bore him in painful silence. The ugly silence of the condemned.

flower

They drove the twisted nails into the man and the tree, bonding them in mutual repulsive pain.

The man groaned as they pounded the nails. The tree groaned with him. He had felt unsightly and reprehensible on the hill, but this was a whole new level of hideous existence.

The cross was stretched upright and dropped into the ground with a jarring and final thud. All that is opposite to beauty was now erected on a high hill for the world to see.

The man shuddered. The day was dark. The world was a mess.

The tree swayed under the weight of their hate and despair. He had never dreamed that such ugliness could exist. Or that he could be the epitome of it.

Ugliness was nailed to them both, and they wallowed and writhed in its grip.

Blood and sweat crawled down bark and skin, until both were drenched in the savour of death.

They stood united in their ugly bonds, alone in a multitude. Forsaken. Waiting to be forgotten.

They stood, scarred hands pressed into scarred wood.

flower

The man hung upon the cross. The tree hung the ugliness high.

At their feet, women threw up their hands to God and shook with sobs. They cried out for innocence, and begged for life. They gasped and wept, and poured out their story and their sorrow below the man, the Christ, on the cross.

The tree knew his own sin of ugliness, but now he also knew that this man was innocent of such sin. Of any sin.

He did not know why one of purity must be condemned to die, smothered in a sin that did not belong to him. It did not fit. It did not match the glimmer of beauty that he had seen, was surely just visible under the veneer of ugliness.

This was a man of peace and love. This was a man whom the women called “Lord”.

Yet he hung, beaten and broken, clothed only in rejection and hate.

flower

The sun relentlessly poured fire upon ragged flesh and wood. The seething crowd slapped their blades of hate and cruelty again and again against the helpless pair. The air throbbed with violence and evil, and the crowd punched it in glee, their ugliness shouting with raging voices that drowned out the cries of the women and the groans of the man.

Then all at once, the raucous world fell silent. The pumping fists and cursing mouths fell silent.

The scorching sun fell silent, and darkness swallowed the earth in a sucking gulp.

A shiver crept along the tree and the man, joined as one.

A voice whispered. God whispered. Or was it the wind crying in the eternal night?

But though the tree waited and even dared to hope, nothing changed. The man hung heavy against the nails. The tree felt the blood run down his scarred face like tears.

They stood alone, shrouded in the ugly garment of hell, a monument of death.

flower

A shuddering gasp pierced the gloom and fog like a spear, as the man hauled himself up on shattered arms.

“Father – ” he gasped. And something changed in the darkness. A charge rippled through the air.

The tree was afraid of something, he knew not what, that seemed worse than all the ugliness he had ever known and endured.

“Father – ” the man’s voice was hoarse and dying, but his spirit rang out strong as he spoke the words, those strange and shocking words, to the ugliness. For the ugliness. Despite the ugliness.

The man bore everything the ugliness had forced upon him, and offered back the words that broke all it stood for.

A final breath shuddered from the wracked body. “Father – forgive them… For, they know not…what they do.”

flower

The sudden explosion burst upon the tree, now frozen in terror and wonder.

For the words had changed everything, and suddenly he was overwhelmed by the sheer power of the beauty that he glimpsed in that second – that split second when two worlds collided and he saw through the open door.

It was brilliant and dazzling. It flashed through the night like stars, and draped itself across the world like a sunset cloud, caressing and blessing. It was invisible, unseen, and yet more real than anything had ever been.

He saw the world, the man, himself the cross, and the indescribable beauty of them all.

The ugliness was mysteriously lost.

Eternally extinguished like a whimpering candle.

Overpowered and overcome.

Destroyed.

 flower

He stood alone. He stood in beauty.

It had irretrievably exploded into being, giving life to the hope that now coursed through the veins of mankind.

He stood, twisted and uncomely, and perfect.

Miraculously birthed amidst the ugliness of pain and suffering and darkness, beauty had been set free.

He knew. He had carried it into the world.

It was finished. It was unfathomable and unthinkable. Wondrous and glorious and forever.

Beautiful.

© Emma McGeorge

The Star

The star hung silently, brightly in the heavens, and wondered at the world below.

The earth breathed silently, wrapped in the cool shroud of night.

Yet the star wondered at the swell of anticipation that gently throbbed beneath the dusky layers, and tickled the night wind, and shook the silvery dust from his glimmering companions.

The hills and valleys slept beneath their coarse, wheaten blanket, sheep and goats scattered across the rolling landscape like flecks of white paint. The shepherds crouched around a crackling fire, talking and singing and occasionally glancing up to meet the star’s gaze.

For they, too, felt it.

flower

Then all at once, as though an unseen conductor had raised his baton, the men fell silent. The star followed their eyes to a far off point, higher in the heavens than himself, to see another tiny star falling out of the sky. As they watched, the star grew bigger and brighter and closer and even closer, until the men began to cry out in fear and clutch their tattered cloaks for protection.

With a silent boom of brilliance, the new star burst into the atmosphere, its sheer force of presence rippling the air like a shock wave and flinging the terrified men to the ground.

The hovering star was afraid. He knew, before the shepherds looked again, that this was no ordinary star like himself. He trembled in awe, star shine tinkling from his shaking frame, and his light seemed dim and grey in the presence of that luminous being, that shining glory, that ornament of Heaven’s throne.

Then the angel spoke, and his sound thundered in the silent night and fell gently on the shepherd’s frozen forms.

“Do not be afraid.” His voice commanded and caressed. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all the people!”

Slowly, men and star took in the unexpected angel of light. Breathlessly, they listened as he spoke.

His words echoed across the ragged little valley; words so powerful that the grass and the trees bowed in reverence, and the beasts of the field turned to listen; words so bright that the star found himself warmly and inexplicably glowing in reflection.

“Today, a Saviour has been born to you; He is the Messiah, the Lord.”

The proclamation fell amongst the awe-struck men with the impact of a beating drum, thudding its meaning in their hearts. Gone was the terror of moments ago to be replaced with incredulous excitement. They carefully glanced at one another’s shining faces, shook the dreamlike cobwebs from their fuzzy minds, and knew – they were hearing a message flowing from the throne of God directly to the threshold of the world.

flower

An explosion of brilliance sent the shepherds to their knees once again, their necks craning in disbelief as the whole sky lit up with the flaming presence of thousands of angels.

Celestial wings sent the North wind scampering in submission. Their glowing laughter skipped amongst the sleeping flowers and bubbled in the stream and echoed through the yawning olive groves. Their song filled the air with such ethereal beauty that it seemed the earth’s very globe would burst with pure joy.

The star wondered at the uncontained delight rippling amongst the men as they hurried to the cosy, sleeping town. He wondered at the angel’s declaration, heavy with inexpressible joy, yet hinting at future sorrow and glory – both terrifying and triumphant at the same time. He wondered at the rapidly vanishing beings of light, and at the velvet backdrop of night that suddenly felt so empty.

He wondered at a single, shining tear that a departing angel silently brushed away.

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When the star looked down again, he found a young mother bathed in his gentle light. Curled up in the entrance of a rough, wooden abode, she cradled a child to her breast and peacefully hummed a tune of love, a harmony to the angels’ shimmering melody. A young man sat beside her, his arm around her waist, her head tucked into his strong shoulder.

The darkness reverently held its shadows back from the babe; the night wind whispered to the watching cattle that grazed inside the little barn.

The mother held her son close and softly kissed a tiny hand. She did not look up to see her wonder reflected in the silver face of the star above her.

flower

The star hung silently, brightly in the heavens, and wondered at the world below.

The earth breathed silently, wrapped in the cool shroud of night.

The star basked in the wonder of anticipation that gently throbbed beneath the dusky layers, and tickled the night wind, and shook the silvery dust from his glimmering companions.

And, as the galaxy drifted on, the night tinted its cloak with grey. The first sparks of light peeked over the horizon, the mighty sun began to rise, and the wondering star quietly slipped beneath the golden sheen of dawn.

 

The Star © Emma McGeorge, 24 December 2012

Good Morning!

This morning, I got up early while it was still dark, put on my pink silk robe and went outside to greet the dawn.

“Hello.” The dawn replied.

I jumped. I’m not all that accustomed to being on the reciprocal end of greeting the dawn.

“Er, hello…?” An embarrassed giggle followed my hesitant reply, as the absurdity of what I was doing suddenly penetrated. The laugh choked into a cough a moment later.

“I was just saying to Venus as she went past – “ the dawn continued matter-of-factly “ – how refreshing it is to slip over the dark horizon and actually be greeted by someone. Makes it worth the effort, you know.”

“Oh… yes – I mean… no. I don’t quite, er, follow…?” I fumbled with the cord of my dressing gown, but my fingers were as clumsy as my intelligence. Wild thoughts giddily galloped through my brain’s morning fog like horses on a prairie. A rather void prairie.

‘The Dawn’ had returned my greeting. What should I say in response? Hang on – why was I trying to respond anyway? Was it entirely normal for one to converse with, well, the dawning of a new day? Such mysteries were really a bit much for a staunch night owl such as myself. Generally, I wasn’t even producing a pulse at this early hour, let alone… Unless it was still night?

I wriggled my bare toes in the cool, dew-kissed grass. It felt real enough. But dreams could be tricky things – thought it a good joke to allow a body to soar in effortless delight through a silver sky, only to fall hundreds of stories in sheer terror and wake up with a horrid jolt, soaked in sweat and obviously not a shining super hero. I pinched my arm.

“Ouch!”

“Hmmm,” the dawn sympathised wisely. “Never could understand the self-infliction of pain. Are you alright though?”

“Oh, uh, yes thanks.” I answered bravely. “Just peachy, I am. Yes… just peachy…”

There was a pause. Part of me was firmly convinced that I should take my befuddled self back to the warm cocoon of pillows and dreams, and wake up a few hours later to start this day again. But another part of me lingered, curious.

“So… how are you?” I finally said, then immediately wondered if one asked such questions of the dawn. If so, no-one had ever shared the outcome and insights of the conversation with me.

“Oh, I’m wonderful!” The dawn exclaimed. “It’s so delightful to start the day with a bit of conversation – don’t you think?” Before I could trip over another awkward reply, the dawn continued, “Getting on, though. Day’s not too far behind now.”

“Day?” I echoed stupidly.

“Yes, the day.” The dawn was infinitely patient. “He usually follows me pretty closely. Of course, I have to make sure I’m keeping up with Night, who is himself right on the tail of Dusk. We all sort of follow the leader, right around the world. Have to keep up, else we’d all get into a bit of a tangle, you see.”

“Yes. Yes, I see.” I agreed, somewhat distractedly. My mind was struggling to comprehend the results of such a tangle, but the dawn didn’t give me time to ponder this novel idea. She blissfully carried on with my lesson on the comings and goings of time.

“Yes, there are always people waiting for Day or Night all around the globe,” said the dawn. Then added in a somewhat subdued tone, “But not very many wait to see me.”

“Oh? Why not?” I asked. The sky was now a misty grey, and I felt suddenly and inexplicably sorry for my luminous and unconventional companion.

“Well you see, I’m the transition between the night and the day. People have very definite uses for Night and for Day, but I’m around for such a brief moment, that most of them miss me slipping past.” Then the dawn’s voice brightened again. “Which is why I was so pleased when you came to greet me!”

“Oh…” I was rather awed by this revelation. I had thoughtlessly arisen to greet the dawn, and now she was thanking me for my actions.

“Well, I… it was my pleasure.” I said truthfully. “Yes – happy to do it again anytime!”

“Oh lovely!” The dawn’s voice was fainter now. “Same time tomorrow then?”

“Yes – yes! Okay then. Tomorrow.” I nodded happily, looked around me, and noticed for the first time the subtle footprints of the day stepping lightly along the path of the dawn.

The sky was bathed in a beautiful rose hue, and the air was fresh with newness and possibilities. A golden streak of sun reached confidently across the ever-lightening blue canopy.

“Are you going now, Dawn?” I called out, suddenly feeling strangely bereft.

“I am indeed!” The dawn called over her shoulder. “But it was lovely to greet you.”

“Oh – and you!” I returned. “Yes – lovely. Well… Good then.”

“Good then!” The dawn laughingly echoed me. “Or, as I like to say it, ‘Good Day’.”

I laughed with her.

“Good day!”

And then, just as the dawn had predicted, it was.

© Emma McGeorge 2012