We Breathe Out Stars

The first time I saw Cirque du Soleil was in Los Angeles, 1987. When the first notes of the clarinet began and the lights came up, the performers were wearing masks of lovely ancient people with innocent faces, reddened noses, jowls, double chins and glasses. They had exaggerated bellies and bottoms–and waddled about doing what ordinary people do: riding their broken shaky bicycles, struggling under sacks of potatoes; collecting milk and bread . . .and breath. They were modest, sad, hardworking and beautiful.

Awkward, ugly, shattered by life and yet still walking forward. I was so moved by their broken beauty that I began to cry.

Suddenly a fog, a cloud came over the stage–and the lovely, ugly modest people became sparkling, colorful, magical beings each with unbelievable color and talent like I had never seen, which they continued to share with us–the audience–for the next two hours.

Every moment was spectacular.

For me, attending this event was life-changing. I thought to myself, for the first time in my life, here are people who think like me.

Then, fog once again rolled onto the stage, and just as suddenly, the sparkling, magical performers became, once again, the broken, the vulnerable and the unremarkable. I was stunned.

Surely this meant that they are–us.

Inside each of us in our awkward, unremarkable, mundane selves there is surprising magic.  Makes you think, right?

I am not talking here of a mild-mannered newspaper reporter popping into a phone booth nor of a guy in a bow tie stepping out of a blue police box (you know it’s bigger on the inside, right?)

I mean that each of us in our own awkwardness and ugliness, our ridiculous, fearful, unforgivable self…has splendid magic inside. Beautiful, sparkling wonderfulness….and all from the Divine.

So in the last chapter of Genesis, we see Moses at the end of his life. He is basically in hospice. He begins this chapter by admonishing the Israelites over three major incidents in which they did not exactly behave up to their potential. He recalls the time he sent out of spies to look at the land of Canaan, their fears of taking new lands, and their lack of courage in conflict. All areas within which the Israelites fell short — their lack of trust, courage and belief.

I could guess that Moses was possibly feeling his own shame and awkwardness over not being able to enter the land of Canaan, because of the striking of the rock at Meribah.

He too was vulnerable. Moses was a boy in a basket, floating in the Nile…waiting to be scooped up by a princess…brought to life–then a mistake. He was all anger, impulsiveness, exiled from his home–a broken young man with tattered sandals trudging through sand. Looking down, ashamed. Then, he looks up and sees a bush aflame. Suddenly his soul is aflame, his eyes shining. It was though he jumped into a phone booth or stepped into a TARDIS and he was transformed.

Moses breathed in God and he breathed out stars.

The nation of Israel followed those shining eyes out of Egypt. God provided a pillar of fire to keep their souls aflame at night and when times were dark–and a fog to protect their modest vulnerable awkwardness as they transformed into their magical selves . . . to keep them under cover from the world–which would just not understand.

Now, for Moses, after a lifetime of helping to breathe life into the living being that had become the Jewish people, his magic is fading–from humble beginnings to a humble end. He can never quite reach the land of Canaan.

He is left to peer over the mountain, left alone with his humanity.

But I believe that it is possible that by bringing attention to their imperfect humanness–when he was, in his own shame, not able to cross the finish line, so to speak, Moses was delivering the message that we all share: that we are imperfect, awkward, afraid. We are the ugly, modest people carrying bread . . . with our coke-bottle glasses, our jowls, the scars on our bodies and hearts of too much hard work and too much disappointment.

Aren’t we all floating among the rushes, in one way or another, in baskets, hoping to be scooped up?

By underscoring their failings, our failings–his failing –Moses is saying, “I am one of you.”

His is an ordinary face with sparkling eyes.  And now, as his life ends, a bit more ordinary.

The fog is returning to the stage and he is once again a man with a bulbous red nose and big belly pedaling a shaky, broken bicycle.

We–all of us–are the misshapen people. While we live, over time, like the Jews who wandered in the heat and the sand for two generations in cloud and fire– we become unmasked–we each, in the course of our ordinary lives, grow a seed of the unknowable and ineffable.

We are not, each of us, necessarily aware of our own magic. If we are not, perhaps we need to trust a bit more that it is there and we need to remember that it is present in others.

Whether or not we let anyone see it–it is the miracle, the one plus one equals three-ness, the bubbling up of amazingness….

To my knowledge, there has not yet been another Moses. I don’t personally know anyone who wears a red cape or can travel through all of time and space . . . but each one of us has a shimmering soul. And when we are aware of our own magic, our own connection to the Divine, then every bush, every bush is burning.

We are those beautiful, sad, aging and ugly people. We move through life, our eyes cast downward, drowning in disappointment. The fog rolls in. We breathe in Divine light. The years fall away, we are colored and glowing and magical.

And when we exhale . . . we breathe out stars.

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