The Wind Rises: Look at the Stars

When we train our attention on the heroic lives of the saints, on the words of Scripture, on the Presence of Our Lord in the Tabernacle, our sight is refined and we are reminded of the true focus.

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The poignant Studio Ghibli film The Wind Rises follows the life of a young Japanese airplane designer, Jiro Horikoshi. His aspiration to create exquisite flying machines for their own sake collides with their intended destiny as war machines. 

Despite the fact that Jiro pours his youthful creativity into successive models of fighter planes, Japan loses the war, and the culmination of his work—the glistening flocks of “Zero” fighters—never return. Nevertheless, Jiro created something beautiful, an elegant plane good in and of itself for no other reason than that it did what it was meant to do—fly well!

As a young boy, Jiro struggles with the fact that his poor eyesight will prevent him from becoming a pilot. He can only fly vicariously; only soar as the designer of the metal birds he longs to pilot. But, dreaming of flight, the youthful Jiro climbs onto the roof of his family’s house to stare at the starry sky—“because they say staring at the stars improves your eyesight.”

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Looking at the stars to strengthen your eyes. The Latin word for desire, desideriummight be related to a longing for the stars (sidus). What are your stars? What are the dreams that force you to look heavenward for the capacity to soar above the earth? Go into your fields at night—both your literal and figurative fields—and gaze at the stars.

“Airplanes are beautiful dreams. Engineers turn dreams into reality.” We, too, turn beautiful dreams into reality—as lovers of the imperfect, dirty, difficult, tired, and wondrous lives we have received from the hand of God. 

In one scene, Jiro, in the company of other engineers, is visiting Nazi Germany in the late ’30s to “learn” about their advanced airplane technology—only, they are not really taught anything; they’re just shown impressive displays. As Jiro approaches a huge airplane hangar, the doors slowly roll back, revealing a huge Junkers G.38 airplane; it’s so big there are passenger seats in the wings. 

Sometimes it seems like we are in a similar position—like the Japanese in the 1930s, still pulling prototype airplanes to the airfield with oxen; do our small, “backward,” homeschooling or college communities stand any chance against the gargantuan powers facing us?

The words of a country song I recently heard on the radio come to mind: “love ain’t cheap, and trucks don’t wreck themselves.” Costly love of individuals must come before ideas, generalities, or fantasies if we are to fulfill the commandment of love. And while not all factors are in our control, as with driving a truck, our lives don’t usually wreck themselves—our care, effort, attention, and prayer have much effect.

For each of us, this call to love will come in a variety of forms, but usually it comes in our immediate family. Like us lay Catholics, Jiro also has something which comes before airplanes: his young wife Nahoko, sick with tuberculosis. Beautiful Nahoko comes before airplanes. In one of my favorite scenes, she insists Jiro move his worktable closer to her bed as he works late into the night. In a characteristically Ghibli detail, she slides her hand out from under the blanket and firmly grasps his hand. 

How are we to gain strength for this, though? I think there is a beautiful spiritual analogy in the idea that looking at the stars will strengthen our sight. On the spiritual level: when we train our attention on the heroic lives of the saints, on the words of Scripture, on the Presence of Our Lord in the Tabernacle, our sight is refined and we are reminded of the true focus, the true interpretive paradigm for our lives. 

Even on a human level, training our minds on the great works of Western Civilization, from Homer and Aristotle to Tolkien and Lewis, recalibrates our bloated modern minds, frantic with sound-bites and endless scrolling.

The wind rises. The storm gathers. Trust has been betrayed so many times. The past two centuries have seen authorities that should have protected us slowly perverted: at the national level, political leaders becoming dictators or working to rid the world of legitimate leaders; at the ecclesial level, priests, bishops, and even popes courting ambiguity and abuse; at the familial level, a particular failure of fathers and husbands to father their children and husband their wives. The same has happened in education and science—psychological theorists proving to be perverted, dieticians clashing in contradictory calculations, doctors prescribing experimental medicines. 

It is our lot to deal with this inheritance: for even if we have not been personally touched by it, we will certainly know or encounter those who have felt the sickening poison in the pit of their souls. I think of young men and women with divorced parents, unknown fathers, or present but weak fathers. I think of the victims of clerical sexual abuse. I think of the victims of theological abuse—that is, all who care about the purity of doctrine and praxis and yet find themselves demeaned by Rome. 

“The wind is rising…we must try to live.” Like Jiro and his dying wife, one dream of mine is to live and flourish, despite the rising wind of our Church and world. Another is to rebuild, in the fields over which I have any say, some of the trust wounded in the hearts of my fellow men and women. 

Do not betray worthy dreams. Think of your stars, and hone your sight on them. Love and trust are beautiful dreams; it is everyman’s task to turn them into reality. Think of your stars, and hone your sight on them. Love and trust are beautiful dreams; it is everyman’s task to turn them into reality.Tweet This


  • Julian Kwasniewski

    Julian Kwasniewski is a musician specializing in renaissance Lute and vocal music, an artist and graphic designer, as well as marketing consultant for several Catholic companies. His writings have appeared in National Catholic Register, Latin Mass Magazine, OnePeterFive, and New Liturgical Movement. You can find some of his artwork on Etsy.

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