Like Shooting Stars

If you think I’m the kind of person who stays up to 2:30 AM to watch a meteor shower then you really don’t know me at all. That said, as I happened to still be up at said time this past Saturday, I’d have been a fool not to step into the dark night and search the skies for shooting stars. The weather, after a rough and rainy start, had mellowed, and the skies had cleared. Stars twinkled across the firmament (yes, stars actually do twinkle) while the backyard was darker than I ever remember it being (I’m not accustomed to being out at that hour, when the neighborhood lights had all been turned off). On a lounge chair not yet put away for the season, I spread out three towels and a pillow, then put on a puffy winter coat, pulling the hood over my head and around my ears. Two blankets were pulled up to my chin, and I waited, and watched.
The sky opens up to you, if you let it. More stars wink in the distance, and the few you thought you could see multiply into a vast collection of pin points usually lost amid our electric lights. Their numbers are immense, and the idea that so many solar systems might exist is astounding. The scope and the relative placement of one single person in such a sprawling universe always made me wonder how far astrologists really were from philosophers. One can’t help but question the larger meaning of things when confronted with such a scale, can they?
I didn’t know where to look for meteors streaking across the sky, or, rather, I didn’t know how to look. Was it better to focus on one single patch of sky, one specific point in the boundless distance, and hope to catch one right there – or better to spread my vision out, scanning swaths of space? Or was it best to look blankly up, a soft, non-focusing gaze that took in all of the sky but nothing individually? I tried all options, settling on something in between. I didn’t expect to see anything – in all the promised nights of the possibility of catching the Northern lights, not once had I ever seen the phenomenon. I stayed there for the still of the night, for the silence. Soon it would be too cold to entertain anything of the sort, no matter how many coats or blankets I piled on, and in this last pocket of possibility, I embraced and honored the earth for letting me stand it this deep into the year.
Then, in the upper right corner of where I was looking, partly obscured by the long reaching arms of an Eastern white pine, I saw the unmistakably bright streak of a meteor shooting across the sky. Unaccompanied by sound (the sound effects of movies and television are just that – effects), it was over too quickly. I adjusted my glasses, making sure it wasn’t some glint or bit of optical trickery, but I could not repeat the flash I had seen, and I knew then that it had been real.

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