"Without a wish, without a will,I stood upon that silent hillAnd stared into the sky untilMy eyes were blind with stars and stillI stared into the sky." -Ralph Hodgson
When I remember how scared I was, I think about how I should broach this subject to my child in a few years. To say "nothing lasts forever, even the sun" will not do; and I would not want to watch her little heart break like mine did. As I look back, my underlying fear was that the sun dimming meant the world ending: no human, no pets, no plants . . . no life. Explaining that this won't happen for billions of years will be no help, for a child cannot imagine what billion years mean.Instead, being truthful in an extraordinary way is the route I'll take. Perhaps Joni Mitchell took poetic liberty when she sang "we are stardust." But we are. Think about how beautiful all the stars are and how each one of us has a little shining star inside. Instead of how we came to be, I will focus on the magical stuff that makes us up. And instead of the bigger picture, I’ll take the microscopic view.
Whatever your theistic views are, science has shown that the same elements that make us up - atoms like carbon and oxygen - are also expelled by dying stars when their supplies of hydrogen fuel are consumed. These elements are expelled when a star explodes and accumulate under the force of gravity into molecular clouds that ultimately form into planets. The dying stars release carbon, which combines with hydrogen to form organic compounds in space. Those organic compounds are the precursors of amino acids, which in turn make up the proteins of all living organisms including humans. Other elements on earth are also created in the heart of the stars, from gold, lead and uranium, forged in a dying star's supernova explosion, to the iron in our blood, and the calcium in our bones.
We may be of stardust, but there is more. We are golden. We are more than the elements and atoms that make us. Our skills, compassion, shrewdness, uniqueness, and tenacious spirit show us that. “Luminous beings are we; not this crude matter," said Master Yoda. Still, I am happy that we are made of star stuff. The death of a star, a death that is in our own sun's future, brings a promise of other worlds and other races. While this will not happen in my lifetime or my child's lifetime, there's a sense that when our sun stops shining, this wondrous gift of life may not cease to exist. Instead, our sun's demise may be a catalyst for some unfathomable life to come. And those luminous beings will be made of that same stardust that you and I are made of. So when the time comes for that truth-about-the-sun discussion, I can tell my daughter to look to the stars to see magical stuff and the promise of more good things to come. Or I can tell her to simply look inside.