Stars, in your multitudes, scarce to be counted, filling the darkness
With order and light, you are the sentinels, silent and strong, keeping watch in the night,
You know your place in the sky, you hold your course and your aim
And each in your season returns and returns and is always the same….
Repeating the lyrics of songs in my head was one of the distraction techniques I was told to try early on in my diagnosis, when I was in a highly anxious state. Actually, it doesn’t work very well for me in episodes of the most heightened emotion but it is something that can distract me from repetitive cyclical thoughts, if I persist. I think I learned to do it myself as a child, actually. I do relatively often get songs “stuck in my head” and when I find one I like, listen to it over and over before moving on to another. (This also results in certain songs becoming associated very strongly to particular times in my life, even years later. There is some music that I like but just can’t listen to anymore because it is too strongly associated with journeys to visit my mother in the hospital 5 or 15 years ago.)
Anyhow, lately it’s been songs from Les Miserables in my head. “Stars” in particular came to mind as I reflected on one night a few weeks ago.
Granted the song is largely a bitter and very sad quest for an ideal of justice to the exclusion of all else, yet it is in parts beautiful all the same.
I was walking home after a very long day at work and my mind just would not stop and thoughts were spiralling painfully and I was exhausted. Shortly before home, I cross a large park and that day I was surprised how dark it was, autumn evenings fast drawing in this time of September. Just that little removal from the street lights and there was an inky darkness and a hush of the quiet night.
I looked up and happened to see The Plough almost right above me, then I stopped and my eyes jumped from star to star, “scarce to be counted” as the song says. “And each in your season returns and returns and is ever the same…” I remembered watching the stars as a child with fascination. Watching them through the darkness – or equally, the lights of distant towns on the skyline as we drove in the car – somehow calmed and reassured me and I would look intently, needing them somehow, especially on drives to and from the hospital, or when signs were multiplying that the next crisis was coming.
It was the same now. Watching, stopping, my mind too began to stop and still. The stars told me calmly of the world outside, of the beautiful and good, of constancy, patterns, hoping. I was enveloped in something much bigger than myself. The turmoil and spirals in my head spun less loudly.
Javert sang to the stars for constancy, clinging to something – justice, retribution, the quest he thought he must never lay down til, by himself, he brought order and vengeance.
I cling to something too, when I go outside and stare up at the stars. But I cling to their brightness, steadiness and the order and beauty they already show, that is far beyond any work or thought of mine.
When the panic rises and terror comes, if I can form any rational thought I try to tell myself to go outside, break the spiralling thoughts and noise by just stepping outside into something else. And I look up and surrender and sometimes, just for a moment, it is quiet.
Here’s “Stars” sung by Philip Quast in the 10th Anniversary Concert of Les Mis, at the Royal Albert Hall: