by Gerry Himmelreich (Bois Forte Ojibwe)
Influence is a star term. Not astronomical in the sense related to the study of the positions and motions of celestial objects, but rather astrological with respect to how those star bodies move and position themselves in ways that affect people. It comes from Latin, influere. To flow into. An emanation from the universe that shapes a person.
The understanding that stars and the universe hold this power makes sense. Long before western science articulated quantum theory or demonstrated that humans are made of the same materials as stars, many Indigenous peoples have shared stories illustrating these ideas. As an Ojibwe, I’ve been taught that the universe is constellated within me. So like Waynaboozhoo who felt his own heart beating with the rhythmic pulse of the universe when he gazed at the beauty of the night sky, I too have felt the oneness and power of stars.
While stars themselves are significant, it’s the collection of stars in specific arrangements that provide a bigger picture. And while those constellations are beautiful, it’s the stories about them—the relationship of one constellation to another—that provides the most meaningful understanding, the most influence in our lives. And yet, without that single star, the constellation, the story, the relationship to others would somehow be different.
When I reflect on the single stars in my life who have influenced me, I think of my grandfather. Growing up, my cousins and I would visit our grandparents together. Our families were spread across the west and those visits were a time for us kids to connect and build relationships. We played, laughed, and fought while being fed by our grandfather’s stories and grandmother’s cooking. One day when my cousin and I were roughing around at the table, my grandfather sat down, raised the knuckles of his right hand against his forehead, and extended three fingers like tentacles wiggling them around until he gained our attention. We stopped what we were doing and looked at him, confused.
“It’s ant language,” he said, smiling mysteriously. “It means stop that horses***.”
I don’t remember whether my cousin and I were more astonished that he said that word aloud or that we believed he could speak with ants. What I do remember is the three of us laughing together. Now, with children of my own, I see how much his small gesture influenced me.
Though he has gone from this earth, my grandfather is one of the stars in the constellation of my life, teaching me that it’s possible to communicate without harsh words or raised voices and showing me the importance of approaching all that I do with love and humor.
The stars that shape us hold us in many ways. They feed us and offer advice. They sing and share stories. They teach us how to laugh and how to cry. My grandfather did more for me than I could ever repay. But I’ve come to understand this: he never expected that I would. Instead, he was showing me one way to look at the world. And possibly how to be a small star in someone else’s constellation.
By unfolding the constellations of our lives, and sharing the stories of those who influenced us, we shift the focus onto those single stars, honoring them and recognizing how they still shape us and connect us with others.