“Only in the darkness can you see the stars.” – Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
There are quite aplenty of quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr. that I could write about, but this one in particular necessitated I write at length about it. The quote literally states a fairly obvious fact, that you can’t really see the stars in the day time. But, that’s not really what King meant here. What he’s referring to is that people must first go through dark times to fully appreciate the beauty in life.
Sure, the world we live in today is far from perfect. At times, it can seem as though things are getting worse instead of better. It’s easy to get so caught up in the negativity surrounding you that you forget there’s so much good in this world, too; you just have to know how to look for it. So many times in my own life I’ve walked around at night, looking up at the stars.
During my college years in New Hampshire, when campus security people (not actual cops) would encounter me walking around the campus, they would chastise me and tell me to go back to my dorm room. I would pretend to give into them, but as soon as they were out of sight, I just turned right back to walking.
After a few run-ins with them, I decided to just walk around the town proper. When I did this, the real cops would just wave to me and say hello, because guess what? They were looking up at the stars, too. This was a great gig for them, because nothing bad ever happened in that town; the students were too busy getting drunk and drugged up in the dorms, so the Merrimack County Police had it super easy.
Clearly, these officers appreciated whenever they got to get paid just to sit outside and enjoy the crisp New Hampshire evenings. Very occasionally some stupid kids, sometimes not even from the college itself, would be caught doing cocaine or heroin; but more often than not, some drunk kid would be stumbling around and the cops would just drive them back home.
I actually felt bad for those who were berating me for such a harmless activity. Clearly, they were unwilling to look up at the stars themselves and wonder any more. In my view, appreciating the vast near-infinity of the heavens is the only way to truly put your own life in perspective. We are much like specks of dust in even the machinations of our tiny blue and green planet, and it’s only when you remind yourself of this fact that you even begin to appreciate all of Life’s little blessings.
I never fit in at that school, which is why I left after two years. I didn’t fit in much better back at a state college in Massachusetts. But, at that point, I had my car, so I could go wherever and not have to deal with being trapped within a campus full of irresponsible brats who just wanted to get drunk and do dirty deeds.
After my late evening classes, I’d spend a few minutes sitting in the parking lot before driving home, staring up at the stars. It was as if I was hoping for some kind of sign, looking for a star to wish upon, that would guide me to my destiny. Of course, being in Massachusetts, the stars were obscured much more by pollution than they were on a hilltop in New Hampshire, so whatever the stars were trying to tell me, it took two years for them to get through to me.
My four years in college were some of the darkest times of my life, but they were not the last. I’d have multiple bouts with severe anxiety and depression, a manic episode due to improper medication, and ultimately decided I couldn’t hold down a regular job due to my mental health issues. Once I turned to freelancing, while things would eventually work out and I’d make more than at my old job, the first year or so was rough. Multiple times during my college, “proper” work, and freelancing years I was suicidal, sometimes morbidly so.
When I moved to Colorado, I thought that I finally could break the issues of my past, and I did, only to encounter brand new ones. It wasn’t until 2020 when I realized that my problem was a lot more basic than I’d at first realized; I became so enthralled by the darkness that it’s all I understood. It took me several months to readjust my way of thinking and finally decided to walk away from the unfulfilling existence I endured for most of my thirty-five years on this earth.
The tragedy of it all is that my childhood was actually pretty good. It wasn’t until I was a teenager that things started going south. It didn’t occur to me at the time that my primary issue was hormonal, something that has been remedied now. But, it’s also because I lacked any sort of direction. I had no real plan. I just did a little bit of everything, hoping I’d slot into a niche somewhere and people would finally just leave me be.
But, no, it took me literally walking away from everyone, everywhere, and everything I’d ever known to go move in with a relative stranger for me to finally see the light. It still took nearly two years for me to escape the darkness that still had its hold on me. Only now with the chains of my past finally cut free can I truly see the stars in all their glory. All I was actually seeing was the darkness and the stars were too distant to be any use to me, or so I thought.
Of course, I know that the darkness I’ve endured is nothing compared to the darkness millions upon millions of people are facing in their own daily lives right now as I type out this essay. But, for the first time in my entire life, I’ve come to recognize that happiness is a choice. You can’t choose when the darkness will come or when the light will finally appear at the end of a long, seemingly endless tunnel.
But, you can choose to make the best of it, wallow in it, or choose the third, often obscured option: do your best to make things better. That all begins with yourself. Without all those years building up my endurance, my fortitude, and my integrity, I wouldn’t have gotten to where I’m at today. Only in the darkness did I see the stars, but only in my reevaluation of the darkness within myself, it took choosing that third option for me to finally expunge the majority of that dark cloud that was attempting to swallow me whole.
When did you last look up at the stars? When did you last go out of your way to get a better look at the night sky? It’s not only a nice idea to let everything else go for a minute and simply take in the grand universe around us, it’s vital to our well-being. After all, we are but made of stardust, and our own life is but a tiny blinking light in a sea of billions of lights, many of which are flickering, yet only a brave few are burning brightly.