Sometimes, when I’m tired or lost I look at old writing. It reminds me where I came from, what has always mattered, and where I ought to go. Today, as I struggled to write a blog post, I sorted through old files and notebooks.
I found this, a reflection from fall of my junior year. It was a hard semester, as I’ve referenced before, but it many ways, it set my foundation. In the midst of that darkness, I found my passions and insecurities. I found my self.
I think this particular reflection captures a lot of that. It also hits at the seed that inspired this entire blog: the fusion of life and philosophy that makes “backyard philosophy.”
I repost it in full below, only edited for grammar. We all need reminders now and then.
Today was a long day, beginning at 5:15 a.m. and running non-stop until now. But it ends in peaceful contemplation. After doing my philosophy homework–mostly Aristotle–for the past three hours I headed back to my room in Francis from La Verna, popping in my earphones, buttoning my coat, and stepping into the night. Soon, I was alone, as I often am, and my head turned skyward. The opaque forms of clouds cluttered the sky. One star glowed in the crisp air, bleached and hidden by streetlights.
Philosophy grants considerable power to humanity. It allows one to manipulate the meaning of our lives, define identities, create standards–build the reality that frames our world and grants it purpose. Without philosophy, much of our lives would be a disordered retreat from pain and a constant race for pleasure. It would lack substance, constancy, and universality. We would be animals. The world of the mind converses with the world of the senses, mingling into a fabric we call “reality.”
“Starlight” itself is a concept, along with beauty, truth, purpose. While they cannot be touched, I can’t see how they are any less real than the grass beneath my feet or the star itself above. They affect my actions and form my judgements. They make life worthwhile. They order the world. They endure through time, often better than the grass itself.
Yet philosophy cannot build reality alone. Reality requires experience. Love exists as an abstract, but it would atrophy without holding hands and self-sacrificing. Starlight would be a smudge in the back corner of our minds. Philosophy allows us to manipulate the world, but the world feeds our philosophy. I doubt we’d have beauty without the ocean, a child’s smile, a first love–or if we did, we could never fully understand it. Humanity understands with the heart as well as the head. The longer I live, the deeper my conceptions grow, until they become ineffable deposits of experience, radiating from memories and tangled thoughts. I cannot qualify Love, Truth, or Beauty, nor do I want to. Yet from these, I find coherence and meaning
Walking back to Francis I was thinking of this, wondering what the stars meant. Pale specks of light. Stoical strength. Cosmic order. Stellar unity. Childhood wonder. Summer nights with a girlfriend at our side, our backs wet from the grass, our hands warm from our laced fingers, our mouths silent.
Think of the depth a single speck of starlight weaves throughout the world. A simple sensation creates endless universals among a world of disunited labels. Yet so many pass by a simple night sky, looking for wealth and meaning in pocketbooks and popularity. Life is indeed lonely and bare without the wealth of our own humanity.