“Their heads are heads of rock, their hearts set upon rock. Set your sights on something higher. Something more grand. Claim the stars.”
– Zeen “Chaser” Nightshade, Skyward, by Brandon Sanderson
Most of the quotes I quote are ones I either agree or disagree with, categorically. This one is a little unique in the fact that I find myself doing both at the same time.
When Chaser, as he is known by most, says this, he is speaking to his little daughter, Spensa. They, and all of humanity that they know of, are effectively trapped on a barren rock by an alien armada. They’ve been trapped their for decades, systematically hunted to the brink of extinction. They’ve been thrown down from the stars and driven into the darkness of caves beneath the surface. But now, humanity is coming together with a hope of survival. And that is where most of their hopes end: survival.
Chaser has something more in mind than just survival, though. He intends for humanity to not just survive, but thrive again. Not just stop running and hiding, but claw their way out of the darkness of caves and claim, or reclaim, the stars. From darkness to light, from despair to hope. That is what he has in mind for his people, and his daughter.
He passes that desire on to his daughter before his death, and it turns her into one of the most defiant souls in human history. Humanity is beaten so far down that they’re underground, and she occupies the single lowest point on their social totem pole. But where everyone else accepts where they are relegated to be for the good of their entire species, she does not. She rises. She rises, and rises, and refuses to stop rising. She climbs out of the darkness and reaches to claim the stars, no matter what she must overcome to do so.
That is more than a little inspiring, and I certainly can’t disagree with her motivation. But, at the same time, there is another side to it. I mean, this defiant girl would never have a prayer of claiming the stars without the society around her. As Chaser says, they have heads of rock, and their hearts are set on rock, on things like survival and nothing more. But rock is stable and strong, and it is the starting point of every journey to the stars.
No one ever jumped into the sky without first standing on something solid.
There is great inspiration to be found in the sky, but there is no shame in living on the ground like everyone else. Aiming high is well and good, and vital, but we get there one step at a time.
I suppose my disagreement with Chaser has to do with how we all want to do grand things in the sky, and we often forget the virtues and necessity of realism and humility. So many people forget that happiness can be found right where we stand, with a good job, and good food, and family, and friends, rather than in aiming to rule the world with all the new, shiny toys, fancy food, beautiful women, etc. It’s something I myself had to learn, and, in honesty, I have failed at enough things in life that if I couldn’t find happiness where I am, I’d go nuts. I will let no one besmirch the virtues of a humble life.
At the same time, however, there’s nothing wrong with aiming to improve. Neither is there anything wrong with having dreams and fighting for them, with all of one’s heart and soul. Even more, perhaps there is more than one way to “claim the stars.” We can reach for them within our own heart, striving to do something better, to be better in some way than we were before. It doesn’t have to be huge. It just has to be.
Someone wise once talked about letting our light shine, which unconsciously gives others permission to do the same.
Our civilization was changed profoundly, and for the better, when we reached for the moon. And when we made a car, a light bulb, a steam engine. And when colonists dared to imagine they were the equals of a king.
It is always the people who reach for the sky who end up pulling people upwards with them.