Teri Orr: When they line up…
Each summer the Perseid meteor showers happen and I mostly miss them. I forget when they show up and subsequently I fail to show up. Or I sleep through them. I have serious star-watching friends who camp in high mountain meadows just to let that star power fall on them each summer. I did that once and the memory of those stars falling as the earth was spinning is something I can still close my eyes and see.
This summer, in the time when all time seems suspended, upended, I have seen stars most nights. I am awake more, these nights, at odd times for odd reasons. My days and nights and the patterns and activities prescribed to those former hours of divisions seem less so. As do the walls and doors of my home. I have everything open all the time. All the doors that have screens. Ditto all the windows that can open to the outside.
Sometimes I forget to pull the screens shut.
Sometimes I have to shoo a bird out of the living room.
In the hours formerly known as bedtime and dark and night, sometimes I am so awake that grabbing a blanket and sitting on my tiny postage-stamp-size deck — outside my upstairs bedroom — seems the sensible thing to do. To gaze at the stars and remember how very small and insignificant I am. Still.
Like so many times in my life about so many things, I was fairly certain of the origin of the phrase, “We are the stuff that stars are made of.” Shakespeare and a revision by Carl Sagan centuries later. And while they both had turns of the star phrases, neither said it exactly like that. Except — and of this I am most certain — a lapsed Episcopal priest in the late ’70s in a hippie camp somewhere in the Nevada desert. This was decades before anyone thought of Burning The Man.
It was a spiritual retreat that followed a centuries-old pattern — most recently re-created by monks after World War II. Three days for laypeople to learn how to better walk in the world. A cursillo — where you learn to walk with God and greet one another with De Colores — or to be in God’s (colors) grace.
I was 29, divorced and leaving Lake Tahoe after a decade, to start my life over in Utah with my two small children. I only knew one person in Park City. And I had only visited once. I had no job there yet. And still that seemed like the smartest move for me at the time.
On the final night of the retreat there was a great feast and dancing and wine. I was between worlds that night. The stars were within reach and I felt embraced — at least by the universe — which gave me a strange kind of peace that did not seem to clash with ecstatic dancing. The handsome, young man — no longer a priest — gently guided my arm and led me outside to see the stars. They had never seemed so bright or so close. I told him how blessed I felt to be seeing them so clearly that night. He knew I was leaving Tahoe to escape an abusive marriage. “The stars are always there for you,” he said. And I looked out from that camp porch and wished on them all — a safe life for my children.
There was a shooting star that night and I imagined myself as the star — all akimbo in the sky landing just out of my vision … someplace else. I remarked on the wonder of it all. He reminded me we are all part of the universe — “We are the that stuff stars are made of…” he said simply. And I took some kind of cellular snapshot of time — right then.
A few weeks ago when the once-in-every-roughly-7,000-year comet was discovered and on its path to our sky — I stood out in my front yard to catch a glimpse. My kind — across the street neighbor — broke the silence and the dark and said “You can probably see it better over here.” He was quietly in his driveway where he had spotted it. I walked over and looked back at my home. The place I have been in for 40 years now. And I was filled with gratitude — at seeing the comet — I did. And at where I had landed in my own trajectory.
My youngest grandson just turned 16 and I had been stumped on what to give him. He is a quirky kid and his path in these teenage years has been uneven. Some days I think he is the most like me in my whole family. And he just sees the world in ways that always surprise me.
I ordered him a telescope. I want him to have the whole universe to discover over and over again. I want him to understand what happens on earth — day to day — may be messy and complicated but in the sky there is certainty — predictability — along with a once-in-every-7,000-years surprise. We are both wildly happy with my gift choice. I won’t always be here for him. But for as long as I am I want to remind him — we are the stuff that stars are made of … and some days and nights that is enough to know — like this very star-filled Sunday in the Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the founder and director emeritus of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
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Columnist Tom Clyde has been unable to nab a ski reservation so far, so instead he’s catching up on all the important animal-related news going on in the world.