A Love Letter to the Great Unknown
One of my fondest childhood memories was from a night my parents were fighting.
“Fighting” — I shouldn’t say that; my parents never really fought in front of me or my brother. But they were in one of the many “adult and married” rows that I wouldn’t understand until I got older. Nevertheless, at my tender age, I hated when it happened.
So instead of listening with cringed teeth and a straining effort to make sense of why my parents couldn’t just “get along,” I decided to grab my coat and walk outside.
The area I grew up in I affectionately call the boonies. My whole county is a mix between farm land and forest, nestled around three state parks and in between the Hudson River and the Delaware Water Gap. We’ve had Jersey Devil sightings, Bigfoot too, and it’s also good for stargazing; definitely not the best this nation has to offer but enough to where I’ve seen the Leonids and Perseids in force, caught a glimpse of Saturn’s rings through a telescope, even observed the Aurora Borealis. It was over instances like that where I developed a strong attachment for the night sky. It was always there for me, always waiting to be observed.
Prior to this particular moment, I had never been out stargazing alone — something about the howling of coyotes can strike fear into a young heart. But on that night, I didn’t care.
I climbed onto the trunk of my dad’s sedan and leaned against the cold rear window glass. It wasn’t an optimal angle for night sky viewage but that was all right. The best part was that out here, it was quiet. My parent’s bickering that had pushed me outside quickly faded in the silence. I watched my breath disappear into the crisp air above me, making way for the expanse of the universe.
I know a lot of people that are scared, terrified even, of the void, and I can understand why; the thought of being one infinitesimally small part of a larger existence — it has the ability to make one feel rather insignificant. I’d actually challenge any person that doesn’t feel that way staring up at the heavens. For as long as I can remember though, I’ve never been scared of that great beyond. Do I feel paltry in comparison to the likes of Vega, and Pollux, and Betelgeuse ? Of course. But stargazing has always allowed me to put things, my life, my problems, into perspective. The universe, by its sole existence, has a way of grounding me.
So on a night, when I desperately needed something to remind me that my parent’s bickering was okay and that my youthful angst would pass, the universe spoke back. I hadn’t expected to see anything noteworthy, I definitely did not expect the meteor that passed directly above me. I’ve seen my fair share of showers, but to this day, nothing has compared.
The single meteor flashed across the sky, slowly, as if it wanted to make sure I didn’t miss it. Its tail lingered across my entire field of view, and to make it even better I heard it. Disrupting the silence of the night was a hiss that rang in my ears long after the projectile’s path had faded.
I stared open-mouthed at the sky; I couldn’t believe what I had just seen. It was the single greatest moment the night sky has ever given me.
Slowly a smile crept across my face, I hopped off the car and ran inside. I could hear my parents still quarreling in the kitchen but I walked in anyway. Their conversation died and they paused to look at me, jacket clad and pink nosed.
“You guys are not going to believe what I just saw.”
Now in my mid-twenties I find it very easy to get wrapped up in the everyday stressors that seem to grate upon my happiness. They aren’t easy to overlook, and even harder to avoid. However, when I feel myself drowning, I try more than ever to step outside.
When you’re beneath the night sky you have the chance to observe a cosmic deity. A thing, so unique and so vast that (to quote Rick Blaine for a second) “it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.” As small as that makes me feel, I can also see that I’m just one part of something greater than myself; something universal, something expansive, something open to endless possibilities — literally the final frontier. In the end, I’ll just be another piece of space dust, and that’s all right with me.