essays

The great centering: my Saturn Return and the loss of grand narratives

On a crisp morning in February of this year, I received an email from the principal of a Catholic school in my area which read: “Dear Jackson, are you currently employed?” From both the tone and the brevity, I instantly knew that this was a job offer to fill an unanticipated absence.

It was two weeks before the crux of my Saturn Return, and I had been eagerly and anxiously awaiting what this date would bring. Would my life fall apart even further? (From my perspective, given the previous six months, I had little left to lose!) Would I somehow gloriously emerge as the self I had always envisioned, like a unicorn?

With some students at the Catholic school

Instead, what happened is that I gradually grew into a role I had been circumambulating for a long time: that of being a teacher. Through the job offer at the Catholic school, which I accepted, I worked with and helped students to grow in terms of their reading, writing, and more subtly, humanity and spirituality, and I settled into the vocation which to varying degrees I had always known was mine.

And yet, there have been other changes following my Saturn Return which have proved more subtle: a kind of steadiness which can itself be seen as instrumental to my teaching; an absence of grand narratives which allows me to be present for all things in my life, more rarely questioning what comes next and how I can short-circuit my way there. 

Prior to my Saturn Return, a pattern I notice is that I focused more largely on what was expected of me than what I myself wanted… This could be in the form of my parents’ visions for my life, what psychics had told me about my fate, my own premonitions or attempts at manifestation, or any combination of the above. Through these mechanisms, I sought to perfect some image of myself which I would then display to others, some ideal person behind whom the genuine me would feel secure. I could achieve greater or lesser success at this game, and yet I always felt both lonely and lost beneath it. 

In the paradigm which has begun to emerge over the course of my thirtieth year, I instead focus on the simplicity of my own wants and needs. For example, there is no longer the notion of being “fated” to be married–no less to a particular person–nor to have children, nor to be a teacher; instead, I center myself in these dimensions, reminding myself that I have a need for partnership and that is why I will likely wind up married, a need for generosity and endowment and that is why I will likely raise children, a need for creative stewardship and that is why I am a teacher. There is less of a need to explain away any of my life’s proliferations with forces external to myself; in a selfhood stripped away of all performance, I ground myself in the mysterious set of gifts and circumstances I have been given. 

With my friend Danny shortly after my 30th birthday

As a result of all this, I notice the aforementioned stability, a novelty to me and a site of insecurity for the entirety of my life leading up to this Saturn Return. No longer do I tell myself, as I used to, that I am “too volatile” to be a good partner, or to hold down a job, etc; instead, I remind myself that I am only one human being responding to momentary and evolving needs, just as all others are, and that given this dynamic, what is right for me will shift and grow with each moment. At some point in time, there will arise a person with whom I can work for a great period; with this person, I will likely embed a family, and we will undertake the incredible shared institution of raising children. Ditto teaching and my relationship to it: all will emerge as a result of my genuinely listening to and honoring myself, for no other material is necessary. 

My Saturn Return has sheared off my mind’s narrativization of my life, rendering me a duller person if a more honest one. As at no time before in my life, I feel I know and accept myself, explaining myself in the exact terms appropriate to me and no others. There are no sweeping rationalizations, no cosmic appeals to any watchful eye–human or otherwise–there is only me and myself, a dialectic that brings me ever-inward, ever-home, ever to the land of rest in motion.

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