Sunday, October 2, 2011


One year for Christmas, Santa left a telescope under the tree for me. I was...young.  Eleven?  Twelve?  Old enough to not quite believe in Santa but young enough that I pretended to be a spy when I took the different lenses out and attached them to the viewer, unscrewing lens caps and blowing imaginary dust off the glass. I never pretended to be an astronomer. Until I made it outside under the stars and whispered the names of constellations under my breath.

I never saw much when I looked through the telescope. I must have used it sometimes in the summer but I only remember frigid air and frozen fingers, lashes that stuck when I pressed my eye too hard to the metal. I remember crusty snow, painful breath. I remember being mostly alone. Except once when my grandfather came out to look.  He was the kind of grandfather who took pleasure in things. My father's father, he was also my mother's sixth grade teacher and thus boasted he'd had a hand in shaping both their minds and that's how they got along so well. When I knew him he was retired and deeply concerned about money, which did not stop him from taking me out to eat occasioanlly at expensive restaurants. He taught me what eccentric meant; he taught me that if I ever wanted to be a writer it was up to me; he was my first exposure to Bill Cosby.  And he followed one night to take a peek through my telescope.

I suspect he saw as little as I was able. But he admired the instrument, he made suitable ahhh sounds when he looked up at the moon. We stood in the cold and shared an appraisal of the nighttime sky. Then he went back inside and I stayed out a little longer, trying desperately to discover a comet.

I still like to look up when I'm outside at night. We all do, don't we? We need those reminders of vastness. Our common disappointment, rage, hope, success - none of it comes close to filling the space around us. We've only got each other to impress; the universe doesn't much care.

As the crisp Fall winds start to take up residence in our neighborhood, the days find excuses to end earlier and earlier. The sun leaves the sky before too long, and the moon makes an appearance at what seems to be an ungodly early hour. How did this happen, summer gone in the blink of an eye.

The moon for me has always represented a magical place. I knew that you could get there by flying like Peter Pan to the third star to the left or in a rocket like the brave astronauts of my childhood. If only I could see for myself if it was actually made of cheese, or how the man in the moon occupied his time when he wasn't gazing down at sleeping children.

When I first read Homer Hickam's “Rocket Boys” I felt as if my childhood had come back to greet me, the depressing air of a coal mining town swirling off of the page. Eventually Hickham's childhood memories went beyond the printed form, were made into a movie and renamed “October Sky.” When he was old enough T and I watched it together. As unfamiliar as my son was about the time period and the place, he laughed and enjoyed it overall. Despite their obvious differences, I think T found in Homer a curious, kindred spirit. My underlying, motherly hope had been that some of the movie's messages would seep into his bones: That hard work pays off, that school isn't all about sports, sometimes science can save you and wishing to go to the moon instead of a dead end job is not an impossibility.

These days I feel like the three of us are thinking about “What I Want to be When I Grow Up”-- some more intent on finding an immediate answer than others. In the grand scheme of things a job can be what pays the bills and what gets you through.  But to discover what you love, what you really feel passionate about it, then the sky's the limit. Until then we'll put up with rainy days and the trees losing leaves as one season overtakes another. Knowing that a sunrise can bring about a new day, second chances, another shot at getting it right. A moonrise though, especially when it's full, can be otherworldly-- illuminating the dark, and making light the path where the shadows threaten to overtake you. By putting one foot in front of other you can stumble onto the stuff that our dreams are made of. With enough stubbornness, perseverance and faith you can somehow find a way to turn them into a reality.

Next Week's Word: Scissors

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