A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

My definition of a Constellation: a thing of wonder. A quote, a picture, a book, that reminds us that we are breakable, fragile beings, yet strong beyond measure connected in the darkness by our light. 

 This definition was inspired by my favorite book A Constellations of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra. It is only tied with The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera. Nothing had been able to come close to Kundera’s book for years until I found ‘Vital Phenomena’ on a bookshelf by chance. I was skimming titles and my eyes were drawn to it. It was the single copy, I pulled it out of the shelf and held it with both hands. I ran my thumb down the spine and traced the letters of the title carefully with my other hand. Now, this sounds ridiculous, but my heart skipped a beat. It had the pull of a long lost lover. An energy that made me simultaneously want to cry and laugh. I read the description but it seemed to say nothing. I thought about putting it back, but my heart ached at the thought, so not even really understanding what it was about I wrapped both arms around it and held it tight to my chest.
I spent the next days with it and it became intwined with my soul. It fused with the very fiber of my being. I remember jokingly telling my husband that there had to be something about the slavic people that they always seem to find my heart. He is 100% Polish, Kundera is Czech and this book is about Chechnya and Russia. I saw it a few days ago on display in the new writers section up front at Barnes and Nobles and I was simultaneously excited for it finally get publicity but also filled with the urge to hide it, so it would be just mine.
It is about Chechnya and Russia and the cruelty of man. Also, our kindness and the holes we try to fill. It made me change my personal definition of a Constellation. It was a no longer a group of stars to me, it was now so much more. He doesn’t talk about it, just the over all tone of the book changed it, really without me even knowing it until later. I often think it, sometimes say it and people just smile and nod, confused.

Anyways, I saw the following quote the other day and all of that came back.

“The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile but that it is indifferent; but if we can come to terms with this indifference and accept the challenges of life within the boundaries of death — however mutable man may be able to make them — our existence as a species can have genuine meaning and fulfillment. However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.”
Interviewed by Eric Nordern, Playboy (September 1968); later published in Stanley Kubrick: Interviews (2001) 

I have never thought of this as terrifying, I never found it cold. The world simply, as it is, made up of unknowable amounts of molecules, vibrating with the energy of long gone stars. The water we drink that long ago flew through space–freezing and re-freezing– finding its way through atmospheres and oceans and mountains and lakes and springs to quench your thirst or run through your fingers. 

It is but our grandest and most humble and honorable role to be simply human; made of stardust–ancient water and ancient earth. 


Ciera Haynes-brodowski 


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