Star-struck

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While shopping for discounted Christmas items, I overheard a conversation between a customer and a cashier. I should have moved along and minded my own business except the employee started gushing about her kids’ thoughtfulness. They’d bought her a star for Christmas.

In my mind I pictured an elegant ornament for the top of her tree, maybe illuminated by LED sparkles, or even a crafted piece of handblown glass. Something to replace a worn-out angel. I could get excited about a well-done star.

Lingering near the gift card display, eavesdropping, I learned that the star was not as trivial as a holiday keepsake. The woman referred to an actual star, one of those “billions and billions” of heavenly bodies that Carl Sagan raved about. This cashier’s star was apparently located somewhere along, or just below, Orion’s belt.

My first reaction: who in the world would pay good earth-bound money for a piece of the heavens that (so far) nobody owns? Apparently, the cashier’s children. My second: those poor children, so shamelessly scammed.

When I returned home I searched the internet and discovered at least one portal for stellar gift-giving. At Online Star Register (OSR) anyone with $33 can name a star for themselves or for a loved one. But for only $54 customers can opt for the “gift pack,” which includes free shipping! I’m not sure if that choice results in a chunk of space debris streaking across the sky, heading straight for your residential coordinates, or just a little stardust slipped into your mailbox.

The Netherlands-based company has been selling stars “since the start of this millennium.” Previously registered star names include Caterina, Matt Barrett, Chico, and Deb. Sophias Grace is on the register too, without an apostrophe, but perhaps the grammatical error is for emphasis, that the namesake better not even think about taking possession.

Alright, enough speculation, because I’m fairly certain the vast majority of OSR’s customers are sincere in their desire to bestow upon their loved ones a unique tribute.

Love itself is always difficult to express. That it exists and grows brighter with familiarity and vigilance is a characteristic of a star, and that it can fade and burn itself out long before we notice it’s gone, sadly, also typifies such celestial bodies. Any heart seeking to underscore its love shouldn’t be faulted for trying.

But I’m troubled by a 19th century mentality of manifest destiny that star marketing embraces. Historian Frederick Merk says this philosophy was born out of “a sense of mission to redeem the Old World by high example … generated by the potentialities of a new earth for building a new heaven.” But it’s one thing to stare up at the night sky and be inspired by its beauty, its depth, and its seeming eternal nature. It’s another thing entirely to hawk the heavens in the name of love.

The online star registration site posts many happy reviews of its services, all of them one-liners, none of them with anything less than a five-star rating. I’ve uncovered no complaints about the quality of a star, its inaccessibility, or the misspelling of a customer’s name. Patrons seem to be pleased, holding this abstraction in their hearts while remaining tight-lipped about the specifics.

Like I said, I’m less inclined to see the business as a service to humankind, much less to the universe. What if, for example, I’m sold a dud, a star that went supernova ten-thousand years ago and all I can see when I glance at my purchase is its last breathtaking pulse of light spewed across the galaxy? Can I return my star for a refund? What if I want to upgrade, add a star to my registry with plans to buy up an entire gal-de-sac and plot a new constellation bearing my own moniker? Will OSR work with me on keeping the undesirables out of my celestial neighborhood, or will the kinds of questions I’m asking define me as a democrat advocating international trouble?

Take heart. At least I’m not disparaging the marketing behind Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, a stretch of terrazzo and brass stars dedicated to over 2,500 entertainers. This Chamber of Commerce marketing scheme attracts millions of visitors annually, tourists who are excited to stare at their feet while paying tribute to their favorite personalities. Fixed to nearly 2 miles of sidewalk, it is by far a more concrete approach to immortality.

David Feela, an award-winning poet, essayist, and author, writes in Cortez, Colo. See his works at http://feelasophy.weebly.com/

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From david-feela, March 2017.