I stepped outside early on a recent morning, already wondering how I’d manage the unrelenting pace of the next few days, jam-packed with teaching and conferences. Walking out to the car, Orion’s belt clearly gleamed in the dark sky over my barn roof. Attention caught, I looked around and saw a network of stars sparkling in the heavens above me, brilliant pinpoints of light. I spied the Big Dipper, low on the horizon and searched the skies, trying to pick out other, more elusive constellations.
My mind skipped back to a recent event with a volunteer astronomer at our school. He had come one evening to set up a telescope and show us the moon, constellations and other stellar objects (planets and galaxies and globular clusters, oh my!). As darkness slowly crept in, he’d trained his telescope on the moon. He shared how, as a child, he’d loved studying the moon, but now it is the bane of his, and other astronomers’, existence; For when the moon shines, other celestial objects are harder to observe.
We had gathered in the soccer field and students and parents alike oohed and aahed as they took their turns and saw the moon’s detailed landscape filling the scope of the viewer. Some children ran off shortly afterward, drawn by the lure of the darkened playground, plenty of peers, and no imminent recess-ending whistle. Many remained, enthralled by the flow of facts and stories. Our volunteer pointed out varied lunar landscape features and spoke of mares, craters and canyons or rilles, one stretching approximately the distance from California to New York. Periodically he scanned the skies, looking for other emerging objects. After a bit he crowed, “There’s Venus!” He eagerly readjusted his telescope to capture that planet in its sites. As the evening progressed and the stars emerged, he told stories of Greek Gods and Goddesses, linking Cassiopeia to Andromeda and Perseus, tracing star patterns across the sky with his brilliant green laser pointer.
This morning I looked at those stars brilliantly gleaming above and tried, in vain, to put them together into the patterns our volunteer had shown us. I imagined them like a road map of the heavens and envied his ability to navigate them with ease. The scope of space befuddles me, and I can’t quite wrap my head around light years and galaxies and solar systems. Clearly, I am not the first to feel immeasurably small in the face of such overwhelming vastness. Through the ages, man has valiantly tried to make sense of it all, to impose some sort of order or meaning over it, weaving patterns together into narrative constellations–Ah, the power of story, lighting a navigable path through the night skies.
I may not be able to place myself precisely in this universe, but I’m here. Looking upward one last time as I climbed into my car, humbled by the incomprehensible immensity of that dazzling display overhead, I set off into my own story, determined to write it as well as I can.