On a clear day
Rise and look around you,
And you’ll see who you are.
On a clear day
How it will astound you
That the glow of your being
Outshines every star.
As I listened to Barbra Streisand sing “On a Clear Day (You Can See Forever),” written over 50 years ago by Alan Jay Lerner and Lane Burton, some of the lyrics–clear day, the glow will astound you, outshines every star–caused me to remember a pivotal incident in my life, which happened a few years ago.
It was one of those cool, cloudless days when the sky seems a deeper blue, limitless. I had been pursuing a passionate interest in the cosmos, learning about planets, stars, galaxies, black holes, and the origins of the universe. Heady stuff! I had become aware of what stars really are: accumulations of hydrogen gas which when they were born attained such a huge mass that at that critical moment the crushing gravity of all that mass began to force the hydrogen atoms to combine to form helium atoms, giving off energy.
Nearly 5 billion years ago our sun was born that way. Now, the immense gravity of our star keeps all that matter and energy from blowing it apart. But with the equivalent of millions of hydrogen bombs exploding every second, some of the particles and energy escape into space. Under Earth’s atmosphere, we humans perceive this radiation as sunlight, warm to the skin and life-giving. The star’s radiation can also be deadly if we’re over-exposed to it. And at a very young age we’re warned to never gaze directly at the sun, especially on a clear day, even if we’re wearing sunglasses.
Well, I didn’t gaze at it; but I did, for a fraction of a second, glance at it. And what I saw took my breath away. It wasn’t that small yellow and sometimes orange or red ball we call the sun. What I saw was surprisingly huge in the sky–a massive, violent star, radiating unimaginable amounts of energy. On that clear day, for the first time, I saw it for what it is.
It changed my perception of our star forever. I no longer take it for granted. Now whenever I look up, I’m in awe.
But wait a minute. This website is about parenting, not astronomy. So what gives?
Well, one way of talking about my epiphany is to say that I was mindful about our star. Instead of thinking about it as “the sun,” I experienced it in the present moment with no culturally based preconceptions.
This is exactly what I’ve been recommending we do with our kids: take advantage of times when we can be with them in the present moment, without thoughts or feelings cluttering our perception of them. In other words, achieve mindfulness in our child’s presence, an act of perception that prepares the way for empathy, which enables our best communication with them.
In my experience, this isn’t an easy thing to do. Our personal history with our child naturally colors the way we see them. Our hopes and dreams for our child can make it hard to appreciate who they are right now. In emotional moments, what we’re feeling can get in the way of sensing their feelings and immediate needs.
But with concentration and effort, it’s possible to put all this stuff aside and achieve a true perception of who they are right here, right now. With practice, mindfulness and empathy are skills any parent can acquire.
If you do, for a brief instant your love for your child will outshine every star.