In memory of Neil Armstrong … our hero.
As a child, the most magical moments of my life were experienced lying flat on my back in the middle of a concrete road.
It was always pitch black, the night air cool, but you could still feel the warmth of the afternoon’s summer sun radiating from the asphalt below. I used to think the road soaked in the rays of sunlight during the day and held tightly to them until I spread out on its surface, and then offered up that heat to counteract the nip of nighttime air.
I’d bunch my hair behind my head, attempting a makeshift pillow so I could roll around comfortably on the gravely floor beneath me. Even so, after a moment or two, nothing short of someone wrenching an arm out of my socket in an effort to save me from becoming road pizza would bring me back to the present moment; that of four kids and their dad stargazing through the soft, magic nights of a Wisconsin summer.
Mapping out the constellations, spotting faraway planets and staring slack-jawed at the aurora borealis, we swore we felt the earth spin and convinced ourselves how easy it could be to slide off and find our bodies propelled into the dizzy mess of twinkling stars.
I grew up with a thirst for the stories behind those skies: the tales of a fierce warrior chasing sisters across a width of space he would never lessen, a deadly scorpion hot on his heels, a great bear seeking revenge, a dragon wrapped around the celestial north pole—forever spinning, addled and delirious, and a horrifying hydra, snaking its way through the heavens.
It’s one thing to be the child, bewitched and wide-eyed with little knowledge to draw from, but an entirely unexpected feeling to be the adult, still in awe, but from the truth rather than mythology. As alluring as my world of made-up fable and folklore is, my own daughter—drawn by an unquenchable thirst for answers—is determined to pull the thin veil from my fiction to reveal the facts.
At times, it’s been easy to resist, as attempting to wrap my head around the concept of dark matter, bits about space/time continuum, or even something as basic as gravity has made my head spin and sucked the joy from learning. Although, I will admit there have been moments when I was caught up in the heart-swelling, soul-stirring splendor of seeing the birth of new stars or solar systems caught on camera by the type of paparazzi that come complete with PhDs in astrophysics or aeronautical engineering.
I can’t even pretend to follow my daughter when she begins waxing lyrical about the transit photometry program she’s involved in and will sheepishly admit she lost me on the first sentence of her explanation somewhere just after the word The. And when she grabs my hand and drags me out into the dark, insisting that we can’t miss the August Perseid display, I feel relief wash over me after she points to the heavens and alters her words to “meteor shower.”
As we lie on our backs and wait for the unearthly concert to begin, the soft chirp of crickets is a constant murmur like an audience rustling their programs and shuffling their feet. The waiting is similar to holding your breath under water and viewing the liquid world; so foreign and seductive, but temporary because you must resurface. Likewise, while stargazing, one can only go so long searching and studying before you absolutely must blink.
And a blink can be the entire lifespan of a meteor.
We lie side by side, quiet, but expectant. I hear her breathe and wonder if she’s counting the minutes until she, too, can join the rest of her people—those who have long ago figured out the secrets of their home and have grown tired of living there. Like a pining teen who longs for the sweet taste of independence, this teen’s first solo abode would be elsewhere in the universe rather than elsewhere in a university. It’s the same, but different.
I treasure those moments of unfettered joy when a streak of light with a tail half the length of the sky shoots past us; a snowball in space determined to break new records for both speed and allure. I am bereft of speech and look to my daughter. There are no words to describe such visions.
Except the ones that come to her easily. Like stumbling upon a book of illusions, the secrets are exposed with revealing illustrations and strip you of future goose bumps. I try to see the science as she does: a language sweet as poetry to her ears. But I miss my warriors, my dragons and sisters.
The two of us view the same stars, the same sky, the same vast and wondrous world.
It’s the same, but different. And beautiful.
Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery this week (here) and what we’re all talkin’ about down in the pub (here)!
14 thoughts on “Make a wish …”
Thanks . . .
You made my day, Reg.
As a lifetime sky gazer, I wish to see the Aurora Borealis with my own eyes someday. I am sure it will take my breath away.
My mom grew up in Nova Scotia and tells stories of seeing it all the time. It must be beautiful.
I’ve always liked the quote by Van Gogh, For my part I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream., so I will keep my fingers crossed for you that one day one of your dreams comes true. Everyone should have the good fortune to see something so awe-inspiring.
Great writing! When I leave for work each morning, if there is a clear sky I see Orion this time of the year … like an old friend, I greet him … forever on the hunt, and most mornings I feel much the same. On cloudy days, I just look up to my attic windows, where there are hundreds of clear christmas lights hung from the unfinished rafters, on a timer, so that every night and morning, I am guaranteed stars. Stars and dreams go hand in hand. Thanks for the great read!
I think so too, Gary. Stars and dreams belong together. They live in those faraway-want-to-be places. I will keep chasing mine. I hope you do too.
Yugen – /yoo-gehn/ n. (japanese) an awareness of the universe that triggers emotional responses too deep and mysterious for words.
Love you, Mom.
I’ll tell you another thing that triggers an emotional response too deep and mysterious for words: finding out that you speak Japanese. I thought we were paying for Spanish lessons.
Itsumademo aishiteru, Chloe.
Thanks, Chloe! I never knew there was a word in any language that defined this awareness of the infinite, which I found in childhood decades ago and thankfully have never lost . . .
Why am I not surprised that it would be the Japanese who found a word for it? Guess I need to study more Zen . . .
I love reading all of your posts, Shelley. Beautiful.
You are too sweet, Sarah. Now, if I can only get someone te read all of my mail.
Delete. Delete. Delete. Delete.
This is you aunt and uncle from Chicago, the not always divine Ms M (Marcelline, Marcie, Molly – take your pick) – and Panos, finally checking in. We came across your blog earlier this year and one of us always meant to post. Today finally seemed a good a day as ever, because of…oh, those magnificent stars.
You would have no cause to remember this, but when your dear ancient auntie was the mere wisp of a seven year old girl, she and the stars already had almost nightly conversations. Maybe that was because she was chosen to do “the star watch” for the first star seen on Christmas Eve night, right before the Vigilia dinner. Or maybe it was because she received the astronomy books she asked for, that Christmas, instead of one more doll! All I knew was that by then, like Ellie Arroway (Jody Foster in the filmed version of the Carl Sagan classic, “Contact”), I was hooked.
It’s all true! And here’s one more related historical tidbit for you. Later that year, on a Sunday afternoon during which all the aunties and uncles gathered together just for something to do (folks did that a whole lot more often, in those days), one of my aunts asked me – as adults are still wont to do – and what do you want to be, sweetie, when you grow up? When I stayed silent for what probably felt like too long a time, another aunt nudged me, asking, “Well, honey…what’s it going to be?”
“The thing is, Auntie Jo, what I want and what will be possible probably won’t work out because…well…I want to be the world’s first…lady astronaut, and…”
That little revelation only brought about a hearty round of female laughter. Aunt Irene bent down to reach my forehead and tousling my hair, she said, “But Sugar, there aren’t even any…”
“Boy astronauts, yet, I know,” I finished her sentence. “By the time boys go up there and then they finally let a girl go, I think I’ll just have missed it. I’ll be a little too old.” But I turned to glance out the kitchen window, anyway, into the future, to wistfully imagine myself there.
Luckily, time really does heal all wounds. I contented myself, that summer, by many a night lying in a huge hammock, under the summer stars, not with my dad but my Mom, your maternal grandmother. And we continued that practice for many summers to come, well into her elder years. Though I lost track, over time, of all the star terminology I once knew, life and wisdom joined to let me know, all I had to do to see myself traveling in outer space, was to look up, from our own spaceship, Earth.
By the way, recently read a NY Times article on studies now being done about even things like this, interests one child might have that don’t show up for a few to a number of generations later – they call it cellular memory. I had to laugh when reading about it, because this is something new age types – precursors, you might say to the likes of Deepak Chopra, etc. – were already talking about in the seventies. Anyway, it made me smile to know that another young woman in the family decided to turn her face to the stars. May they be with her in her pursuits!
Wonderful post, Shelley!
Wow, those were some sacred memories you shared. I suppose it’s somewhat of a relief that today we encourage both boys AND girls to shoot for the stars, if not to live among them. It’s also wonderful to have a look at the crack in the time capsule–to see what direction that shared genetic strain came from. I wonder who passed it down to you! 🙂
Thank you for reading and a big hug to you and Panos!
A few more thoughts (I actually meant to come back and post these last night, but I couldn’t keep my eyes open and properly engage my brain) …
In terms of who could have passed down certain tendencies to us, with all those gazillions of genes out there, I’m sure there had to be at least one or two other stargazers in our bloodline, don’t you think?
One of the things so enjoyable about cyberspace is the breadth of information being
made available to each one of us, like never before. Even with that, the least astute reader of blogs can tell when so many posts coming from a specific author are “interesting enough.” The writer or would-be writer, of one like that, struggling to bring to new life something surely written about earlier, in myriads of ways.
However, every now and then, I come across something that reminds me of qualities a professor taught in one of my early creative writing classes, qualities that, when they show up in a given piece, hail the mark of an either potentially gifted writer or mark the one whose consistent authorship shows her already being such an artist.
A kind of sincere integrity that can only come from the heart. And that only possible, by coming from a place of genuine “knowing.” Without either, no matter the technical expertise involved, the writer still leaves her/his reader on the outside peeking in. To take us not just to the sight but the feeling of the gravel on our bodies, the coolness of the air, to colorize the night sky with an animal pantheon still speaking to us even now, to let us feel the moment of breath held in, just before the thousands-year-old flurry of grandeur forces a release, to invite one to share in an intimate moment between mother and child, is to paint a portrait worthy of more than being hung in the Louvre. As Joseph Campbell, one of the early great mythologists would suggest, painting such a portrait for others offers an invitation to return to goddess.
Thank you for the invitation, Shelley.
By the time I reached your third paragraph, I thought, yep, they’re here, they’re all here. The qualities. She’s one of them, all right. Keep your thesaurus and such on the side, for the days you think you really you need them. But keep coming from this place of “knowing,” and soon enough, far more than a few will ask themselves, “Where has this writer been all this time?” Had to come back to tell you this.
Just sayin’. 😀