The OED (Oxford English Dictionary) tells us stasis means equilibrium, coming from a Latin word meaning “stopping circulation or movement.” When this word comes into my mind, I picture two people on an old-fashioned see-saw when they are eye-to-eye and the board is perfectly horizontal. I also picture a perfectly still small pond in a quiet wood just before someone tosses a pebble into its midst, making lots of “circulation or movement.” In the Renaissance, scientists and philosophers believed that each planet, newly observable because of the invention of the telescope, gave off its own special sound. They then posited that if the planets were perfectly aligned, those individual sounds merged into perfect harmony, something they called the Music of the Spheres. This paradisal moment was possible only when the universe was in stasis–hence it was rare indeed.
The closest we come today to any understanding of stasis occurs on March and September 20th, when we mark the Vernal and Autumnal Equinox, 24 hour periods in which there is exactly the same amount of light and darkness. We’ve just experienced the 2019 Vernal Equinox, so I let myself sink into how it felt to know of this delicate and short-lived perfect balance: light was on one end of the planetary see saw while darkness was on the other. They looked each other squarely in the eye and some of us marveled at the ontological significance of this momentary secession of one state’s having dominance over the other, even if only for a few seconds.
In the Canadian Native writer Tom King’s wry Pan-Indian novel, Green Grass, Running Water, we encounter three very ancient and very dead Native American elders who keep showing up for brief visits to the land of the living. They make these visits at the two Equinoxes because they believe that on these magically static days, the world has a chance to wipe the old slate full of the white man’s dominance, abuse and trickery clean. In other words, these wise old visitors from the dead hold out hope that those in power will see the error of their ways, start over, and do better. Though all the evidence that accrues on the days and months following the Vernal or Autumnal Equinox show the old men that we whites are not facing our errors and vowing to do better, they promise to return at the next moment when light and darkness experience equilibrium. They keep believing that if we have the courage to stop all the bad wheels and just remain at rest for a few hours, there is hope. I thank their spirits and Tom King as their creator for being so optimistic. And, on March 20th just past, I sat quietly in my sun room with my companion kitty, Patches, and imagined a world in which all sorts of principalities and powers stopped their gyrations and hovered long enough to glimpse a more equitable world.