There are a lot of reasons people stay in their own small orbits.
Maybe it’s safer there, surrounded only by objects you know, pulled by the familiar gravity of your own life.
Maybe there’s no opportunity to travel. Maybe location or position or conditions keep you grounded.
Nana lived in South Carolina almost her entire life. Granted, it was a much bigger world back then. Before interstates, traveling city-to-city could take days and state-to-state longer than that. International travel was more than unlikely, it was almost unheard of.
Now the world seems smaller. Now the 22 hour flight to Australia sounds painful but do-able.
When I was in the Philippines, twelve hours ahead on the clock, Charlie called me “Future Girl.”
Even easier is connecting over the internet, where we can feel like we’ve been transported. We can experience culture, language, and perspectives from people who seem far removed from us.
We could feel even more distant. The Far East. Down Under. Across the pond. The Left Coast. Another hemisphere. Another continent. Unknown worlds of wonder and worry.
Or it could seem like just-on-the-other-side-of-the-keyboard.
For the second year in a row I’m hosting a virtual birthday party. It’s a chance for all of my friends, far and wide, to celebrate with me. Raise a beverage (of course), snap a picture, and share it on my Facebook event page. Last year we celebrated in Manila, Liberia, Canada, and both the East and West Coasts of the U.S.A and a few states in between.
But despite the technology available and the visibility we have to those other worlds, some people remain in their own small orbits. They refuse to travel outside of their paths, whether they’re rotating around their jobs, their families, their homes, or their kids.
They seem trapped. Held fast by the gravity of something not their own.
They may not consider themselves to be in orbit at all, but rather fixed points around which their jobs, spouses, and children rotate. I know people who think of themselves as suns in their own solar system.
When I try to decide if I am a fixed point or a planet, a star or a comet, I think each has characteristics I admire and each has properties that make me feel heavy.
I do not deny the gravity of my family. I feel compelled to stay near, to pull others toward me, to keep our orbits complementary to one another with intersections at birthdays and holidays. The metaphor works, I think.
But I like better the metaphor of a constellation. Other stars, some of whom have their own solar systems, some which are growing and some of which are dimming. Together we create the constellation that is my life, each of us lending a particular amount of light.
Likewise, we create, in different configurations, the constellations of others’ lives.
Hollie’s constellation is a beautiful galaxy of my family and Charlie’s, of her school and her friends, and on the outer rim are the people I know who are watching her grow up via Facebook.
There are a lot of reasons people stay in their own orbits. Why they pull their constellation stars toward themselves, refuse to share them with other constellations, refuse to share their own light with other constellations. Why they become black holes.
Some of it, I think, is fear. What if another constellation challenges us? What if it changes us? What if the pull is too strong and we are taken out of our orbits and sucked into another one?
Some of it is selfish. If we burn too brightly in someone else’s life, what fire will be left for our own? What if we waste our light on it? What guarantee do we have that the constellation will fully form?
I'm a change snob and I think staying in orbit is willful ignorance.
I think those tightly trapped in their orbits have made the choice to surround themselves with only those things that reflect their light back at them.
I think they are trapped by those mirrors whose flat surfaces could never take light or give any, but only reflect that which is projected.
I know people who surround themselves in the light of their own reflections.
For whatever reason, I have never been comfortable in a single orbit. I like the view from outside the solar system too much. I like the journey around the brightest stars in my constellation. I like the velocity of change.
I like knowing there is something more waiting and I’m on my way to see it, learn it, know it, be it.
I like the uncertainty that at any moment a blazing comet could come through and disrupt everything. I don’t protect against it, I look anxiously for it.
My constellation has changed over the last two years.
Life on Clemson Road experienced a big bang in 2012 when we moved to the Upper East Side of Columbia. A supernova later that year when my older sister defected from the family. The death of a white dwarf (she would have liked to be called that) when Nana passed away.
As the constellation continues to expand, in some places stretching apart, in some coming back together, we are ever tracing the orbits inspired by the gravity of our values and our love for one another.
But never just keeping to our own narrow paths and never withholding our light from others. On the contrary, we seek to burn ever brighter, like red giants, in our own time.
What about you? Are you trapped in orbit? Or chasing comets?
Disclaimer: Maybe a little inspired by The Cosmos which we caught the end of Sunday night.