Something to remember

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Some days I am reminded of just how rough life can be, how full it is of downs or uncertainties instead of ups and hopes. Life is so funny, the way things play out, and we'll never know whether it was all a coincidence or a twisted joke. On days like these, it's easy for me to forget the little things that have brought me here: the wild dreams and little guiding posts that have made me who I am.

Nature has a way of grounding me, of making me notice the little things and the big picture all at once. The perfection of each flower petal, the neverending colors natural to earth, thunder and lightning ... it's all a mystery to me. And the sky, I think, is the greatest mystery of all. I can't believe I'd forgotten, but once upon a time not so long ago, I was more than fascinated by the sky and its transformations. 

At the Grand Canyon late at night some springs ago, I stepped out under what seemed to be the naked sky for the first time in my life. Having grown up in the city, it was not unusual for even the clearest of night skies to contain at most 9 to 11 stars. Imagine my wonder when I stood under the Arizona sky and felt enveloped by a blanket of stars. I was barely a teenager, but I can still remember how full my heart felt, how surrounded I felt, how small I felt.

Later on in high school, I developed a liking for the aurora borealis. I haven't thought about it in a long time, but there was a time when I thought of the Northern Lights often and dreamt up plans to travel to Alaska or northern Sweden to view them. What beauty, what mystique ... the unknown humbles and thrills me all at once. Well, I made it to Sweden, but not to the north. Someday I will be back.

And then in college, I took an astronomy class to fulfill a mathematics requirement. This required an observation just about once every week or two. At the tip-top of the campus, in the shadows of the trees and the quiet of a clear night, we would silently crawl up a ladder and press our eager eyes against the telescope. What we saw was of another world, literally. (Everyone needs to try this at least once in their lifetime.) It was so sharp it all looked fake to me. Jupiter, with its rings, were an inch away from my nose! And the feeling I got while trying to memorize its rings and its shadow for a homework assignment was something I'd never felt before ... smallness of a magnitude that was nearly impossible to fathom. But the feeling was there, and it was incredible.

I'm insignificant in the grand scheme of things. I'm a speck of a speck of a speck on a grain on a pebble floating near another pebble in what is possibly just a small cluster of the universe. There is so much we don't know, can't see, can't imagine. My time on earth is so short, it's practically negative.

My problems are not big, any sadness is fleeting, my anger is momentary, uncertainty is certain. Happiness is the only thing worth anything.

When I look at the sky like this, memories from my past come back ... childhood (okay, teenage) dreams of seeing the Northern Lights, of becoming fluent in French, of publishing a novel, of becoming the editor-in-chief of The New Yorker, of summering in the Hamptons, of being well-read and well-spoken, of falling in love with a person worthy of me. These were my dreams at some point in my life, dreams I have set aside or, in some cases, given up on entirely. Many of them are improbable, but maybe that's what dreams are for -- to feed the child inside with hope.

Instead of discouraging or depressing me, the gazillions of stars in the sky seem to say, "don't give up, keep dreaming, don't forget who you are" ... it's easy to get lost out there to people and things and emotions and life. But the sheer presence of the stars, all eons away but twinkling and ever steady, reminds me that maybe we are all here right now for a reason. Nature is simply too beautiful to be a coincidence.

And in honor of remembering my old self, I've set up a "bucket list" at 43 Things.

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