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Following Stars, Falling in Love and Fairytales of New York

Updated: Dec 21, 2023

Last week whilst arranging Christmas lights, listening to Fairytale of New York playing at the funeral of Shane McGowan, I thought about following stars of various kinds. I'm not unique. Humans have a powerful need for hope in the midst of darkness. As a child I remember the start of Advent. Before the ubiquitous chocolate calenders, those small pictures revealed the Christmas mythical journey, following a star. I was also seduced by fairytales, believing that whatever or whoever felt like the brightest star would lead me to new life. As a teenager, those stars were the musical kind. My friends and I followed Shane, who we lost recently, although his songs continue to shine. His funeral made me think of this poem which talks about the accidents of life, which we are often drawn towards blindly. Following stars can be crazy!

Speaking of Accidents

Given the general murkiness of fate,

you might, in my mother’s words, “Thank

your lucky stars,” a phrase she’d drop

into the lull between calamities

like a rubbed stone,

then nod wisely while it sank home – pure poetry,

meaning she loved the sound of it

more than its truth.

But here, precisely, one needs discrimination.

Our town drunk, steering by street lamp home one night,

as was his custom, got fooled

beyond recognition when a fast freight at the crossing

fixed him to its glare. “Some men

are like moths,” we said, and that

was the poetry in it,

meaning his sudden somersault into light.

Truth is, the world fell in on him

as it commonly does when you stray

from the garden path and run head on

into the pain that, until then,

was as lost as you.

The trick is to risk collision,

then step back at the last moment:

that ringing in your ears

might be construed as the rush of stars.

We all want stars, those constellations

with the lovely names we’ve given them blossoming

in the icy windblown fields of the dark.

Desire is always fuming into radiance,

though even a drunk can’t hope to ignore

some fixity underfoot, some vivid point

closer to home where all the lines converge –

scars, I mean,not stars.

Peter Everwine, 1930

I am less starry eyed these days. Like Peter's poem, starlife has felt like less like a journey and more like a series of accidents. Falling in love can lead to a deeper engagement with life but also loss. I can sometimes access enchantment reading books or watching films but most of all listening to music like Shane's. I am drawn to this starry feeling like a moth to a flame. Love is blind, beyond words, necessarily so. But we have to know when to pull back, sometimes it can all go wrong. If our earliest attachments were problematic, we may mistake pain for love, or love for pain. If we experienced abandonment, were ignored or forced to adapt to situations we were not ready for, we are more prone to mixing up the two with disasterous consequences.

Painful love is not necessarily a disaster; accidental falling in love is an inevitable part of moving towards a new relationship with ourselves as well as others. If love as pain is what we have known, the experience can feel right. Some describe it as feeling like finding a lost part of themselves.

In his poem, Speaking of Accidents, Peter Everwine reminds us that if we care to listen, there is always fixity underfoot. Sooner or later we come down to earth again, we fall from grace. We finally notice that what we have hoped for is not what we encounter. Seeing stars or being besotted can be a beautiful beginning. We have a chance to fall into chaos and open up to the world. But this hopeful sign, the bright star sooner or later will call us to sacrifice something. We feel inspired but then we have to work at creating from this rather than continuing to chase more inspiration, more stars. At the very least, we need to pull back from the collision, the car crash of a doomed love. Regrets are perhaps inevitable. I could've been someone, as Shane sings.

In the poem, Peter says that even a drunk has access to what is underfoot, support from the world around to help avoid collisions. Shane McGowan, despite his alcoholism, was able to rely on the love of his wife and family and for years evaded the total collapse that many other drunks can't avoid. The star like potential we carry within needs sustaining in the physical realm. Tuning into reality as it exists on earth may confront us with what is missing in the relationship. Stars don't keep us warm at night. If we can acknowledge the limits of a doomed love and still carry the star of hope, we can create something new. To collaborate is tougher than blindly hoping something or someone can change.

Shane McGowan and his music lit up our lives; he was one of those creative shimmering stars that have inspired awe across millennia. True awe means knowing that the blind hope of a star struck trance can be an intoxicating beginning. Hope is the light that sustains us while we work at creating a satisfying life with meaning. If we truly have faith in the star or light, we have to acknowledge the darkness from which it emerged. We oscillate between being blind and able to see; falling and picking ourselves up so we don't crash. The song Fairytale of New York oscillates between light and dark; perhaps the reason it resonates with so many.

Shane embodied the value of risk and adventure. At his funeral, his wife told us he was an explorer of consciousness whilst managing to avoid too many collisions. Many are not so lucky. Sometimes we can’t avoid what Peter's poem called the world falling on us. But if we pay attention to the earth beneath our feet, we can just occasionally avoid disaster. Amidst the mid winter darkness, I want to follow the stars that feel like they are pointing the way, to dream the dream forward (as Jung said), knowing it is inevitable that I may aquire a few scars. Shane's funeral reminded me last week how important it can be, if you hear an arrestingly beautiful song at Christmas, to thank those lucky stars.

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