When was that last time you stood outside at night and looked at the stars? I did that recently and it struck me that it’s been a very long time since I’ve done that in any mindful way.
I was looking for something, but until it was time to see it I stood in the cold night air. It was crisp, but not uncomfortably cold. During those minutes the neighbourhood was quiet and all I could hear was the hum of the hunkered-down city just beyond the cul-de-sac.
I looked up and saw stars, tiny dots on the black canvas of night. I’ve only ever been able to identify a couple of constellations, but there they were. Reliable. Unchanged.
I was looking for the International Space Station, which, after a few weeks of being visible in the early morning when kids and the call of a cup of tea make it practically impossible to stand outside and look up at the sky, was going to be passing overhead. I get an email alerting me if it will be visible in my area, and that night the time worked. 8 p.m. Ethan was asleep and Rich was upstairs putting Connor to bed. The dog hadn’t made his nightly appearance from his hiding spot in the basement, so I was alone. Just me and the stars.
For a few years I fairly frequently flew back and forth between Victoria and Vancouver, the harbour planes cruising low enough that the ground was always in sight. Being above the world, even just a little, invariably put things in perspective.
I am up here. The world is down there. People are driving and boating and farming. They are living their lives just as they did yesterday and will do again tomorrow.
It always made me feel as though whatever was bugging me was perhaps not such a big deal.
That’s how I feel when I look at the stars. Doesn’t everyone? It’s hard not to feel insignificant in the face of evidence of the universe and time almost beyond measure.
I wasn’t sure if I saw the ISS that night because I wasn’t entirely certain what I was looking for. Maybe I saw it. Maybe my timing was off by mere minutes. But I did see a couple of shooting stars and I took some time to breathe.
Do you ever just stand outside and look up at the stars?
P.S. If you aren’t already following along with Col. Chris Hadfield — a proud Canadian — and his life and work aboard the ISS I can’t recommend it enough. He’s there for a five-month period, and the photos he shares are nothing short of incredible. But it’s not just that. He’s knowledgeable, inclusive, poetic. His photo captions reveal a man who is not just a scientist but an artist as well. “The sea playing with the sand,” he says of the image of Pakistan above. He shares their work and the science and engineering behind it, daily life in space, and some personal information as well. You want to feel awe? He doles it out in bucketfuls. I love looking up into space, and I love knowing there’s someone looking back and me and sharing what he sees.