Prospering Through Our Darkest Moments
These days, I am a bloke reborn, up even earlier than usual gazing at the night sky while the dogs make their appointed security rounds in the darkened backyard — Mulligan in the lead, with Ajax the pup following.
Rufus the cat, who prefers to spend his evenings out, typically waits on his favorite terrace chair, and we sit for a spell in the cool darkness contemplating the sky, listening to sounds you can never hear when it’s daylight. Lately I’ve heard owls and crickets and a horse’s soft whinny from a pasture half a mile through the woods.
On splendid clear nights, which we suddenly had after former Hurricane Lee moved on Tuesday, the planet Jupiter, riding the southeastern horizon, is nearly as bright as Sirius, the so-called “dog star” from the constellation Canis Major, brightest star in the late summer sky.
I learned from the Hubble telescope website that the cloud rings of Jupiter are actually visible with a decent telescope, reminding me I need to lay hands on one soon because I’m an aging earthbound man who is increasingly star-mused, a holdover from a childhood marinated in wisdom of ancient mythology.
In ancient times, the rising dog star in late summer marked the flooding of the Nile in Egypt and the start of hot, dry days that were blamed for weakening men and arousing women’s ire, a glittering light that was the source of the phrase “star-struck.”
I know the feeling, have felt weak all summer — though my wife and colleagues would probably just say grumpy and out of sorts. Like the Greeks, hot summer days unravel me, as does watching cable news most evenings, a world seemingly forever coming apart at the seams and on the threshold of collapse, when I should be outside weeding the perennials and watching Jupiter rise in the east and listening for doves in the dusk.
All these spectacular tumults of late — earthquakes, hurricanes, droughts and floods, wildfires and cyclones, Kim Kardashian’s wedding drama, an unraveling Europe — have the modern TV soothsayers working overtime, citing Scripture to guarantee the end of this sweet troubled world is at hand, the way insurance companies assure swift payment for lost goods, apparently privy to the Almighty’s mind and design. They seem so eager to give up on his beautiful, troubled planet one can only wish them well, good luck, safe passage and don’t let the cosmic screen door hit you on the rump, dear.
Every time I feel the news can’t get more discouraging, I sit and contemplate a pre-dawn sky that never fails to cheer me up, to make me feel better about our species’ gritty survivability, an ancient sky that’s stretched over millennia of man’s folly and failed ambitions but is still awesome, reminding me that what’s eternal is eternal and what will pass will pass and we — for all our schemes, our daily sound and fury, our endlessly arguing political hacks — are just tiny bugs beneath God’s thumb, part of the passing parade. From up there in the firmament, the world down here must look deceptively peaceful
While waiting early the other morning in Pittsboro for my college boy son to come pick me up to fetch his car from an auto repair place in Burlington (he’d borrowed my beloved Roadmaster), a lady beside me at the counter in a coffee shop where I went to grab a quick bite asked me what I planned to do to observe the anniversary of 9/11. She explained that she’s frightened that an even bigger terrorist attack is coming any day now, that we’re no safer today than we were that terrible clear September morning a decade ago. She was on a flight to Atlanta that day and still has trouble boarding airplanes.
“Where were you that awful morning?” she asked, the chatty type, before I could properly answer her first question.
Buying autumn mums at my favorite nursery on the coast road near our home in Maine, I told her, flowers for a wedding celebration scheduled for that following Saturday. My wife and I had been married in June but delayed the reception until after Labor Day so friends from far away could come and enjoy the best weather of the year. Also, with the summer tourists cleared out, the price of lobsters always slumps. We had 150 folks coming for a lobster feast and Irish dance on our lawn.
“Did you have to cancel?”
“Yes. But it came off anyway — even better than expected.”
She looked perplexed, maybe even a touch offended. After learning many of the airlines were canceling routes, I explained, several guests phoned to say they simply couldn’t get to Maine in time for the party. We began calling the rest of our guests to inform them that we’d decided to postpone the event.
But something really strange — something wholly unexpected and wildly encouraging — suddenly happened. The universe took charge.
Ten years after the fact, I still regard it as all the proof I need that we flawed and bumbling humans always find a way to survive and prosper through our darkest moments. Every day is just another chance to save the universe, a friend likes to say.
The day after we canceled the party, the phone began to ring with the same anxious friends on the other end, most of whom had been glued to their TV sets for days, sheepishly asking to “come anyway” because they were weary of the avalanche of horrible images. Many said they would just drive, and they did — thousands of miles, in some cases. I have a cousin who flew his own small airplane entirely across the country just to be there when the lobsters came out of the pot and Irish band started up.
In It Together
As I told my companion at the breakfast counter, we wound up having more people than originally planned — some pried depressed friends from their dens and dragged them along — and close to 200 people devoured the lobster and wedding cake and stayed around until the wee hours dancing around a bonfire beneath a nearly full harvest moon.
Days later, many of our guests got back in touch to thank us for holding the party because it reminded them how connected we are in this world, how in the end and despite our considerable differences, we’re all in this thing together. Lighting a fire and dancing in the dark was just the reminder they needed.
“Wow,” she said. “That gives me goosebumps. So what will you do this weekend — have another party?” No, I said, I hoped to just have a typical Sunday in sweet September. That would be the ultimate defeat to any terrorists.
As usual, I would probably rise before dawn and watch the sky, then make coffee while my wife sleeps in a bit, perhaps take the dog pack for a walk, then walk myself off to church, read the Sunday paper, catch a nap in my favorite terrace chair, weed a bit in the garden, enjoy dinner with my in-laws and go to bed early with the windows open on a cool September night.
“So you aren’t worried a teensy bit?” she asked, as we both put down a $1 tip.
“Only about Kim Kardashian’s wedding and the fact that my son is so late picking me up, he may miss his morning class at Elon.”
She laughed and I laughed, and we said goodbye. She climbed in her Subaru with the fading Obama for President sticker, and I walked across the street just as the college boy was pulling to the curb in my beloved old battlewagon. I kissed his scruffy face and he grinned.
“So what’s up?” he asked.
“A chance to save the universe,” I said.
This made him laugh — probably because the apple doesn’t fall far from the cosmic tree, even in a struggling Garden of Eden. “Are you serious?”
“Couldn’t be more,” I assured him.
Award-winning author Jim Dodson, Sunday essayist with The Pilot and editor of PineStraw magazine, can be reached at email@example.com.
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