The world, as usual, seems to be going to hell in a hand basket, but just before midnight last night, here on vacation in the Low Country with our little ones all asleep, some of us went down to the beach to see if we could spot some meteors – and did we ever spot them. The “we” in this case were my three grown children, called Carrie, Michael and Annie, and Annie’s husband, called John .
I’m a good deal older than they are of course, and I couldn’t see well at all on the long boardwalk down to the ocean, on the dark and moonless night. I thought I could navigate my way by starlight alone but no: a quarter of the sky, low to the horizon, held a veiling of clouds in which lightning flashed and forked.
Somehow, though, far overhead, there they all were, our ‘old friends’, not our friends at all really. and not looking down at us as we once believed but just burning away, unmindful of us in our tiny world.
John had a birthday yesterday. Earlier, with the children all still up, we celebrated with a fat chocolate cake and sang and he pretended to blow out the candles though a stiff ocean breeze did that for him half a second after we brought the cake out onto the deck. Born on August 12th, he has doubtless been told all his life that the Perseid Meteor shower coincides with his natal day. Anyway he sure knows a lot about it, AND the constellations AND the origin of the universe, this whole cat’s cradle of starry matter in which we are caught and held. He’s a big-picture type of guy as you would know if I hadn’t cropped this photo of him and Annie standing before a map of the world…
In fact Annie just joked via text when one of us asked where John was during the violent hailstorm that drummed us all into submission last week that yes, John was safe at home, out in the yard at present, explaining the Greek debt crisis to the dog.
Anyway, last night when we five got down to the water, we lay back in beach chairs looking up. Mosquitoes feasted on our ears and our skin went clammy in the tidal air. “Start by looking over by Cassiopeia there,” said John, pointing upward.
We did. A minute passed. We saw two meteors.
“I read where the stars really were brighter , maybe even closer, in the time of Plato,” somebody said.
“They were,” said John.
Another two meteors.
“So the universe really is expanding and cooling, cooling and expanding?” somebody said. It might have been me.
The others agreed that yes, this was the case. A palmetto bug trudged over somebody’s instep and three more meteors passed.
“So where does it end?” somebody said.
“It all collapses and goes dark. But well before that, like in three billion years, the Milky Way will collide with Andromeda,”said John.
A thoughtful silence.
“Will I still have my job?” said Annie in a small voice.\
Then a bat swooped low over Michael’s head, which caused him to give a yelp, and a second yelp as it swooped back up and swooped back down as if choosing him more truly.
Two more meteors, then three, then one.
I stood up out of my chair then, thinking of my husband David and daughter-in-law Chris in our rented house with its honey-colored light.
“Mum wants to go back,” said somebody.
It was true. Mosquitos had begun nesting in the net of my hair and my neck hurt from all the uplooking.
So my youngest child Michael escorted me, almost as blind as his recent bat friend, along the 300 yards of skinny boardwalk. It was utterly dark among the palmettos and now came a loud rustling sound just two or three feet from us.
“What was THAT?” I said, though I wasn’t frightened.
“It’s a deer, see it?” said Michael.
But I didn’t. And then I did. I saw its eyes, two close-set headlights, as they looked to me. I never did see the whole animal, but I guess that’s how we mostly do see, here on this mortal plane: in part, as the Apostle Paul wrote and one day face to face – and would that not be lovely?