Once upon a time, as a little child slept by an open window, a star exploded in the sky and a splinter of starlight fell and lodged in its tiny heart. The child grew up to be a young man without realizing this extraordinary fact.
One day, while he was gazing at a sunset, a pain seized him with such force that he thought he was going to die.
He went to a doctor, who examined him, proclaimed there was nothing wrong with him, and urged him to eat less fatty foods.
Still, the pain lingered in him, so he consulted a psychiatrist, who put him through analysis, declared him of sound mind, and told him to avoid reading fiction novels.
When the pain in his heart showed no sign of abating, he went to a priest, who told him that he was forgiven all his sins and that he should say the rosary four times a day for a year.
He did everything that these wise men advised him to do, but still his heart throbbed with such an inexplicably intense pain that he decided to end his life.
He climbed up a mountain, intending to throw himself from its peak and end his suffering.
There at the summit, he came upon an old man sitting cross-legged upon a rock.
"Where are you going, young man?" the old man asked him.
"I am going to throw myself from this mountain to still my heart forever!" the young man cried out in anguish,
"Before you do that which you feel you must do," the old man said," allow me first to see your hands."
Reluctantly the young man showed his hands to the old man.
The old man stared at the palms of the young man's hands, and exclaimed:" You are a star-child!"
"A star-child?" asked the young man." What is a star-child?"
"A star-child," said the old man," is a child with a splinter of starlight stuck in its heart. Though you and everybody else cannot see it, it is there as surely as I am sitting here and speaking to you. When you were but a little child, this splinter lay dormant, reflecting your lack of self-knowledge. Now that you have grown up, and think more for yourself, it glows and refracts the heat of your thoughts and feeling. This is the source of your great pain."
"But I do not wish to be a star-child if it means that I must constantly suffer from this pain!" the young man cried.
The old man looked sadly at him.
"Not everybody can be a star-child, and the heavens chose you to reflect the beauty of the stars. The pain will always be with you every single day of your life."
"Sir," the young man sobbed," it is better for me to die than to constantly suffer so. Let the stars reflect their own glory, they are brilliant enough to dazzle any mortal eye."
"Look at the splinter as a gift," said the old man," and I will give you three things to help alleviate your pain."
He produced a leather satchel, and took three objects from it: a brush, a pen, and a flute.
"Take this brush and paint with it. The colors refracted in the prism of the splinter will flow out through it, and your pain will be transformed into a landscape, a still life, and a meditation in colors.
"Take this pen, and write with it. Give vent to your thoughts. Time and pain will soon mean nothing to you, and there will be less trembling in your heart.
"Take this flute and play it. Whatever storms are raging in your heart will rush out through your lips into the chamber of this flute and lo! They will pour out as melody and crystalline lines of notes.
Having said this, the old man closed his eyes and vanished into the forest.
The young man took the brush, pen and flute, abandoning all thoughts of throwing himself from the mountain.
He painted, and wrote, and played the flute, and although the pain remained in his heart, these activities gave him a measure of tranquility he would otherwise not have had had he not heeded the advice of the old man.
Through the years he became renowned as an artist. People flocked to see and buy his paintings. His books were on the bestseller lists. He played his flute to sold-out audiences in concert halls everywhere.
As he became more successful, he also became greedier for money and material things. He refused to play for orphans and widows. He gave none of his paintings to charity.
The royalties from his books went right into his bank account. The love for the tangible rewards of his success soon consumed him entirely and he became a mean, scrooge-like creature. `
And slowly, imperceptibly, the splinter in his heart stopped glowing.
One morning he woke up in his mansion to discover that here was no more pain in his heart. The pain that fueled his creativity was no more.
And because there was no more pain, the colors ceased to flow from his brush.
Because he had no more thoughts to give vent to, the words ceased to flow from his pen.
Because no more storms raged in his heart, the music stopped flowing from his flute.
He felt used up and empty, bereft of that which gave him both a reason to die and a reason to live for.
Try as he would, he could no longer do anything with passion and intensity.
He painted, but all he produced was hackwork.
He wrote, but all he could scribble were inane potboilers.
He played the flute, but his tones were harsh and strident.
Critics scoffed at him. His agents dropped him. People refused to buy his paintings, his books, or hear his concerts.
He became destitute, hounded by creditors.
In despair, he went up to the mountain--yes, that very same mountain he had climbed up many years ago as a young man. Once more, he was thinking of throwing himself from its peak and end his misery forever.
There at the summit, he found the same old man sitting cross-legged on a rock.
"Where are you going, sir?" The old man asked him.
"I am going to throw myself off this mountain and thus be rid of my creditors forever," the desperate man replied.
A knowing look came over the old man's face.
"There are more lines and wrinkles on your face and the weight of your problems seem to have carved a stoop upon your shoulders, but, yes, I recognize you. You were that young man I counseled many years ago, the one who complained of pain in his heart, the one to whom I gave the brush, the pen and the flute. Yes, it is you, the Star child, and mirror of the stars. What has brought you to this terrible resolution?"
"I am no longer the star-child!" the artist cried. "The splinter has been plucked from my heart, and I can no longer paint or make music or write at all. I am through!"
"Let me hold your hands," the man ordered him.
The artist held out his hands to the old man. The old man read his palms.
"You are still a star-child," he said," and the splinter is still in your heart, but because you became obsessed with fame and fortune you have become dull and unreflecting as a piece of ordinary rock. Since there is nothing for it to refract--no light, no gleam of honest, pure feeling---the splinter has gone cold; therefore you no longer feel any pain. Is this not what you wanted, in the first place? Not to feel any pain at all?"
"No!" the artist cried. "Once, I thought it was unbearable, but now I want it back. Without the pain I cannot create. If I cannot create, I am nothing. I might as well be dead."
The old man reflected for a moment, then said: "If this is what you desire, then this is what you must do. Find a remote spot far from the cities and the eyes of men and there you must stay till the end of your days. There will you paint and write and make music, for I assure you, the pain will return in your heart and you will be able to create again. Take no money from anybody. Assuage the hearts of those who chance upon you; make their lives whole again, for they too are star-children whose hearts have turned to stone from the business of this world."
With these words, the old man stood up and disappeared into the forest.
The artist found a remote cave, far from the lures of towns and cities, and there he meditated for a year before taking up the brush, pen and flute again.
At first he painted, and wrote, and played music for himself and for the birds and beasts of the forest. Soon, however, people learned where he was, and made pilgrimages to his place of abode.
They marveled at his paintings, they recited his epics, and delighted in his music.
Their hearts glowed with the colors of his landscapes, their minds soared with the breadth and richness of his prose, and their ears rang with the clarity of his music.
He made them see again the beauty in their hearts and minds.
He was grateful that the pain had returned this heart. The splinter of starlight glowed so intensely in him as to suffuse his entire body with an unearthly glow.
One day, he felt the splinter burn much more intensely. Tongues of the most exquisite pain projected into every pore of his being.
He knew then that it was time for him to go.
He packed the three objects so beloved of him, gifts of the mysterious old man, and journeyed to that same mountain where he had first encountered him. He sat on the same rock the old man had sat upon. He reflected on his life, felt the pain surge in breast, and knew his life was coming to an end.
His reverie was interrupted by the sudden appearance of a disheveled young man with an anguished look on his face.
"Where are you going young man?" he asked him.
"I am going to throw myself from this mountain and still my heart forever!"
The young man's words brought the past rushing back to the old artist with a startling freshness.
Now he knew how he must have looked like to the old man.
"Before you do that," he said gently," first show me your hands.
The young man hesitantly opened out his hands to him.
The dying artist read the lines and whorls on the young man's palms and saw there the movement of distant stars, and read indications of brilliance born of personal suffering.
"Yes," he told him," you are a star-child, as I am. There is a splinter of starlight lodged in your heart.
And words that had first been spoken by the old man many years ago flowed from his lips with the warmth and understanding born of a lifetime of pain, the continuous attempt to ease it, and the final acceptance of it. The young man listened to him, comprehension and peace smoothing out the anguish from his face.
Finally, he bequeathed to him the three things that had given him so much joy in his lifetime-- the brush, the pen and the flute.
"Take these, and though the pain will stay in your heart, these are the instruments by which you can achieve a measure of peace."
Having said this, he closed his eyes. The splinter in his heart burned more fiercely and consumed his earthly body, and the Star Child, now a pulsing mass of incandescent light, burst into the sky to take his place among the other stars in the firmament.
© Manny Panta1991/2012
This work may not be published for commercial purposes without the explicit permission of the author.(Click below to view the Issuu version of "The Star Child". )