Baby Bright Star

There is a Family Project legend that—left untold—might just die with me.BrightStar1

I’m not even sure if my brother knows about it. Or for that matter my Aunt Joyce, who was likely there when it happened.

Dad told me the story many times, especially when he knew I was feeling down in the dumps.

“The night you were born,” he said, “your mother just glowed. She was so happy to see you.” As she first held me in the maternity ward of Coleman Hospital in Indianapolis, Ind., the window shade beside her bed—he reported—suddenly snapped open. Out the window she saw a bright star in the sky. It was sometime during the evening of Friday, Nov. 27, 1959.

Later, in a 1997 birthday card posted from South Florida, Mom wrote to me: “Thirty-eight years ago, I still remember [lying] awake in the middle of the night, after you were born, feeling very awed & seeing a very bright star out my window. I knew then you were going to be very special & gifted.”

The folks (then in retirement mode) were en route to a vacation in Hawaii, and I was home in St. Paul, having just started a new job in the spring of that year. That was 11 years before Mom died on May 24, 2008.

Whether the window shade was an embellishment Dad added to the story, I guess I’ll never know.

But there it is. A legend passed down once again.


If being “very special & gifted” means having a highly sensitive nature, then I’m not sure I want to be. Seriously.

In 1987 I was diagnosed with dysthymia, a form of low-level, lingering depression. It took years for me to learn how to manage the worst part of the condition—commonly called a “double-dip depression,” when my overall mood nosedives into a full-blown depressive episode. I fear those like nothing else.

My friend Thérèse called me out on it just recently. “You know,” she said over the phone, “I think you’re an empath.”

I wasn’t even sure what an empath was (outside of an old Star Trek episode), so I did some nosing around online.

Some of my psychological qualities seemed to match the description of a so-called empath: the need for quiet and contemplation, annoyance at over-stimulation and noise (such as any place where a lot of people are talking at once), an ability to walk into a room and pretty much know what’s going on emotionally with everyone in it (even the knack for guessing what people’s news is even before they announce it)—and strenuously avoiding most intimate long-term relationships.

That, I understand, is the modus operandi of an empath.


I’m not sure what to make of all this.

While it may be revealing, just acknowledging being an empath doesn’t provide any clues for how to live with such a condition.

Thérèse probably said it best: “You like to interact with the world, you like getting out and meeting people. But you need to figure out how to protect yourself and not get drained by others.”

People who meet me for the first time are confused to learn about this. “You’re so outgoing, it’s hard to believe you’re actually like that.”

I know, I know.

It makes for a minefield of ambiguity: my outward affect doesn’t always match my internal emotional state.

BabyBright2I wonder what Mom would’ve made of that—her eldest boy being “an empath.” She knew I was highly sensitive and praised it as a quality she hoped I’d never lose. But being a highly sensitive male tends to alienate me from other men—and women.

“You feel things too deeply,” my ex-girlfriend AJ once said to me. I found her comment confusing, and it hurt—somehow confirming that, well, maybe she was dead right.

I can usually detect lying, deceit, fear, or apprehension upon meeting a person for the first time. If there’s residual sadness, pain, suffering or disease, I can sense it in a room, even if the space is empty.

Now that I think about it, the “gift” goes all the way back to my early childhood, when my paternal grandfather took me into a bar once and I said, “Grandpa, I don’t like it here! Let’s go!” That’s another of the family legends passed down to me.

So, how can I not be that way? How can I be stronger, more dependable, more detached and therefore more rock-solid?

Or maybe these are the wrong questions.

Maybe it’s a matter of how can I be more empathic—use this curse, gift, aberration, psychic ability, fuck-if-I-know-what—where it can help others.

My first step is to do more research into what is, if nothing else, an apparently highly sensitive state. Is there even such a thing as an “empath”?

And what are they really good at doing, like no one else can do?

~ by completelyinthedark on August 28, 2015.

One Response to “Baby Bright Star”

  1. I’ve now learned the star my mother saw was the rising of Sirius in the late night of Nov. 27, 1959, over Indianapolis thanks to the app Stellarium, which allows you to see the night sky in any place on earth at any time in history. Pretty amazing! You can clock it forward or backward and that was how I was able to see Sirius rising above the Indianapolis horizon just after 9pm, since I was born at 8:52pm. Then I learn some crazy things about composer Karlheinz Stockhausen and Sirius and whoa down the rabbit hole of star systems, music, and personal history. Crazy.


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