‘Starry Night’ resolution
Stars reveal themselves to my eyes every night. Since my bed is a good vantage point on late nights or early mornings, I revel at the magnificent twinkling of enormous balls of gas, appearing as little white dots taken from one of my connect-the-dots books when I was young. It’s true, though. Stars have a kind of charm that mortals find extremely appealing. No one could have proved it more than Vincent van Gogh.
He is one of the most prolific and remarkable artists of all time, using bold strokes and energetic colors in his masterpieces. “Starry Night” was the piece which most textbooks used too often, even 10 years after my first encounter with it. He was an enigmatic man who poured his soul into his work, churning diamonds out of his misery and ill fate.
Vincent’s love for painting sprang early from his mother, also an artist. He fell in love with painting, so much so that he devoted his entire life to his passion. He had to quit school to work for his uncle who was an art dealer because his family could no longer support his education, but he continued to learn and never ceased from discovering the magnificence around him. Perhaps this is what love does, in whatever shape or form: We can never quit it—it’s kind of like drugs, but better.
It wasn’t until he was entered in an asylum that life took its toll: Depression drowned him; other painters considered his work outrageous and appalling. In the darkest moment of his life, he painted one of the most beautiful pieces his hands had set themselves to: “Starry Night,” beautiful and magnificent, yet unwanted.
I couldn’t help but imagine how much misery Vincent must have been in. After pouring his heart and soul on the sole thing that kept him alive, it disappeared, leaving him empty.
* * *
In 2014, I hit an all-time low point in my life. My depression surfaced like a ghost ship in the winter solstice: haunting and terrifying. There were days when I could not write a single word or even get up in the morning. Poetry and laughter used to paint my seemingly eternally jubilant disposition, but when I tripped and fell down a rabbit hole too dark, deep and empty, all that seemed to color my life was the chaos of trouble.
Writing and staying in my university paper were a struggle as I had constant bouts with self-doubt and insecurities. They were all great writers there, and I wasn’t—so why was I there? Even my journal felt the drought; it remained empty for days, weeks, even months. A sentence became too tedious to write, a paragraph terrifying. The pillows on my bed and the chasm in my chest became my resolve. Even the reassuring words of friends and my guidance counselor weren’t enough to set my soul on fire and my heart beating again.
One night, I decided to wander onto the lawn of my dormitory. I lay down on the prickly Bermuda grass which was kept clean and well-trimmed by our tenacious hands. Stargazing had become a habit since I began drowning in my depression. While gazing at the deep blue, semi-black sky, I lifted my hands up and tried to reach the stars. Lifting my head toward the sky was the only hopeful act I could do in the midst of the stillness around me.
I couldn’t help but break down, crushed, as my dreams passed before my eyes—dreams of writing a novel or two one day, of playing roles in dramas or comedies, of writing stories that would change the world, of being somebody, dreams all shrunk into me just wanting to be happy again.
Maybe the culprit was the daily rapid fire of discouraging words and bullying I received in grade school. Or it could be the constant pressure of expectations set upon me when I was five years old. My family constantly asked me: “What would you like to be when you grow up?” I’ve given many answers to that question, but 14 years later, I’ve realized how unanswerable it is.
I’m 19 and I don’t even know what I want to be anymore. I’m 19, and I’ve made several suicide attempts because I couldn’t figure out where my life was going.
I’m 19, and I was close to certain that I was going nowhere.
* * *
But just when quitting on my dreams became the only practical and viable solution, I am reminded of Vincent van Gogh: He continued to paint despite his misery. Paint and turpentine became his resolve, absinthe and bread and coffee his friends, and the little yellow house his solitude. Day by day his sadness was consumed by madness, and his madness devoured by misery, and his misery ended with a pistol shot on his chest by his own hand.
Vincent never lived to see his works touching so many people’s lives. He never lived to see his paintings hanging in museums, and fought for over centuries. It pains me how such an endowed man had to live a life of misery, and in the end, giving up. How I wish he had lived more than 37 years so he could have seen the enchantment with his paintings.
Truth be told, the struggle to find one’s worth in this universe will always be present. My battle with existential crisis is far from over: I still have mountains to conquer and rivers to cross, words to write and poems to pierce through my fears. As a wise old professor once told me, “No matter how small our role is, if we do it well, we will die happy.”
To die happy—that is the dream. To do what I love, and keep doing it until the day I die, and see how I’ve turned the world around a little—that is the mission. I want to see how my words will bring the asleep back to life, the way “Starry Night” revived me.
I still look up at the starry night sky before I sleep. I am reminded of how Vincent would look toward the cities below him, past the iron bars hindering him from a greater view, and how he turned his misery into one of the greatest artworks in history. He may have died, but his soul remains among the stars and mortals.
Looking at the stars always makes me dream. “Why,” I ask myself, “shouldn’t the shining dots of the sky be as accessible as the black dots on the map of France? Just as we take the train to get to Tarascon or Rouen, we take death to reach a star.”
I am still connecting the dots of my life throughout the stars, but I’ll get there. I’m not giving up. Someday, I’ll see the bigger picture which is set for my life, painted on the same starry night sky.
Patsy Leuterio is studying development communication at Central Luzon State University, and is the head photojournalist of its official publication.
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