Mercury is in retrograde, and I’m not talking about thermometers. I’m talking about something a little more universal.
Since Jan. 21, the planet Mercury has appeared to be moving backward. Astronomically speaking, this is no big deal: The orbits of Earth and Mercury are aligning in such a way that it seems as though Mercury is moving in the opposite direction, even though it isn’t. It’s kind of like when you’re driving next to a car moving slower than you — the other car is still moving forward, but it looks like it’s falling back. This planetary road trip happens about three times per year, for three to four weeks at a time.
Astrologically speaking, however, this is a huge deal. Like the Roman god the planet is named for, Mercury is the messenger, the communicator, the improviser. When Mercury moves backward, things run amok. Our cell phones die faster, we miss our trains, our Uber never comes and we accidentally reply-all. If your friend has thrown around the phrase “Mercury retrograde,” what he’s trying to say is that everything is out of whack.
You need not look far and wide to see Mercury rearing its ugly head. Just the other day, one friend told me her Snapchat account sent some photos without her permission, causing her unnecessary anxiety. Another friend lost part of his thesis after a computer he was working on was wiped. On our way to lunch, yet another friend (can you tell I’ve got a few?) and I walked past a former hookup of hers as the onslaught of snow made our frigid encounter just a little colder. As I write this column, a dear friend has found himself in Yale Health with frostbite.
I may not be a “science person,” but I think the evidence adds up. Mercury’s retrograde is real. There is no escaping it (Yale Health’s Chief Astrologist could not be reached for comment).
Many an online survival guide will tell you how to cope with the funk. These sagacious websites tell us to err on the side of caution, recommending to always have our phones charged and to triple check our appointment times. A POPSUGAR article even tells us to, “Go on an online dating hiatus” (pained as I am to see the words “online dating” and “hiatus” in the same sentence). By outright avoiding some technologies and riskier behaviors, they claim, we can rise to meet the celestial challenges we encounter.
Even so, to me, these advice columns about surviving all of Mercury’s whims are defeatist in tone. Ultimately, they claim, we are powerless, at the hands of something larger than us. Here it becomes all too easy to blame Mercury retrograde for anything that goes wrong.
This is the double-edged sword of Mercury retrograde. On one hand, it’s a scientifically sound explanation for any weirdness we might come across. But to some extent, it’s also an excuse — one we should not be so quick to espouse. Our sense of what we cannot control should never be so extreme that we start to blame the stars for all eerie events or Snapchats or encounters. Mercury retrograde is only one of many possible explanations.
Maybe something good can come from Mercury retrograde. If we begin to expect unforeseen events, we develop a nimbleness we might not usually have. We can improvise when something unexpected comes our way. For this reason, I propose we live every day like Mercury is in retrograde. If we exercise caution, communicate clearly and wing it a little, we can lead better lives.
Mercury will resume its usual eastward path on Feb. 11. Valentine’s Day and the five or so last weeks of winter are miserable enough on their own, and we don’t need Mercury making them worse. Despite Mercury retrograde’s welcomed end, the lessons it teaches us are timeless — especially if we act as though Mercury retrograde is forever.
Austin Bryniarski is a junior in Calhoun College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.