• Michael Lentz

Mercury in Retrograde

Mercury is in retrograde. At least for another few hours. Retrograde, in this context, describes a type of motion that occurs between planets. It is an illusion observable (to Earthlings) when one planet is moving at a different speed of orbit than Earth, so that when Earth passes that planet, that planet appears to be orbiting backward. Heavenly bodies moving fast along their prescribed orbits, always moving forward, may appear to be moving backward. Planets moving along their destined paths, holding and withholding multitudes, reckoning with their prescribed orbits as best they can.

While these planets may appear to move backward, they actually rush forward constantly, steadfast and progressive. I imagine these planets groaning and striving and staggering, each coming to terms with their ordered steps.

This phenomenon is observable between Earth and many planets, but for me the retrograde of Mercury has been the one that caught my attention this year. From Earth’s perspective, Mercury enters retrograde four times a year for about three weeks—perhaps the frequency of Mercury’s variation from retrograde to prograde had something to do with why that planet was given the name Mercury in the first place. In Roman mythology, Mercury was the messenger God (also known as Hermes in Greece), often running off to deliver messages between humans and humans and between humans and gods.

This year, I’ve been in a kind of retrograde. I’m moving forward, but in some ways, it can appear like I’m moving backward. In May, I moved back home. In July I accepted a full-time teaching position at the high school I graduated from just five years ago. I’m around family all the time now, doing many of the same kinds of things I used to do. There is a part of me that loves this return: the ritualistic, reminiscent part of myself. But there is also part of me that feels incomplete, like I’ve given up on my grander dreams (Grad School! Living in a city!).

There have been many good and beautiful things about being back at my high school, but it has been challenging to step back into these spaces, knowing so much more of the world. I’ve grown so much through college and friendships and independence. One of the things I’m having the most trouble dealing with is being around family all of the time. I’ve been realizing the ways that I can be a Mercury in my relationships to others. In many of my closest relationships, the ones where I feel I most ought to use the word love, I don’t frequently or equivocally, or properly share experiences, knowledge, feelings, thoughts, or have conversations about really personal things. Yet, while I might be closed-off in conversation, I’ve gotten into the habit of taking personal memories and experiences turning them into pieces of writing or stories (often telling these on a public podcast, no less). In that sense, like Mercury, I have become a messenger: taking those experiences, that knowledge, those thoughts and feeling and words, and instead of expressing gratitude or frustration (or whatever) directly back to another person in a particular moment, I produce a piece of writing and become a messenger of my experience, broadcasting real truths and meditations to an undefined recipients instead of reflecting back directly to those who have shown me love (in its various forms).

I think this can be irresponsible, but I also don’t think I can or should change this, completely. Writing is how I remember. I can’t imagine not writing, but I can imagine not publishing. I can adjust the size of my audience. I can stop broadcasting messages to no one in particular and instead, I can find ways to deliver smaller, discernible messages to specific, significant individuals. I need to find ways to better receive and respond to the messages that are given to me.

As Earth and Mercury leave this period of retrograde (on or around December 22) and Mercury returns to prograde, a more recognizable form of forward motion and progress, I hope to work harder to remain present with those that I love. To show them that I receive their knowledge, their thoughts, their feelings, their words (if they will share them—I hope they will share them). I hope that as Mercury becomes directed, moving back in sync with the motion and the movement of Earth’s steady orbit, that I will not run—that I will be less of a messenger and more of a recipient; that I will not just hear and repeat, but that I will listen and respond. And I hope to do my best to love others in ways that they will be able to receive.

This piece was originally published on The Post Calvin, "a collection of Calvin University graduates who couldn’t stop writing when the classes were done. Here, we explore these restless post-diploma years in the best way we know how."