Shooting Star: Toes in the Sand, Wishes in My Heart
Half an hour before sunrise one morning last week, I was coming back from an hour’s hike along the beach when I glanced up and saw a shooting star, my first in decades, passing just above a very bright Venus and below a serene waning moon.
I wondered if I should make a wish. Or maybe a baker’s dozen. Just toss ’em out there and see what God or the universe might come up with.
Then I remembered it was the peak night for the Perseid shower, the annual August meteor light show provided by the passing field of dusty debris from the Swift-Tuttle comet, bits as small as a green pea burning up as they plunge through Earth’s atmosphere, which admittedly dulls the romance of a shooting star. At its peak, the Perseid produces as many as 50 meteors an hour. So it was a night of shooting stars.
Even so, it stopped me in my tracks, this shooting star, leaving me a bit slack-jawed with wonder. Far out to sea, a passing thunderstorm flickered like the porch light of the gods, a thousand times more beautiful and moving than the laughably bad closing ceremonies of the London Olympics.
For reasons I don’t need to analyze too deeply, I find myself spending more time lately looking at the sky, watching passing clouds and nighttime stars, calmed by its oceanic vastness and spiritual presence that must be alternately amused or horrified by what we’re up to down on our little planet. My father used to say, “Go for a hike in the woods or under the stars when you need perspective. Tell the universe what’s on your mind. Someone might be listening.” My old man was an ad man with a poet’s heart. I called him Opti the Mystic.
“One has to be alone, under the sky, before everything falls into place, and one finds his own place in the midst of it all,” another mystic named Thomas Merton once reflected.
So just for the heck of it, I made a few end-of-summer wishes on the night of shooting stars, some big, some minor, some serious, some silly, uncertain who or what might be listening since everyone — including maybe God — was away on vacation.
Time to Move On
I wished, first off, for a big-ticket item, that we would get the hell out of Afghanistan ASAP — just pack up our stuff, hand over the keys, and bring every American soldier home tomorrow. This is a country that clearly yearns to live in the second century, so let’s not sacrifice another American kid to their dream. Another serviceman committed suicide over there the other day, the 120th of the year to do so, a tragedy beyond words, and not a week goes by when some hero of the Afghan army doesn’t turn his gun on an American trying to make his life better.
We never seem to learn that we can’t save the world from itself. Meanwhile, the money spent in just one week on that wretched country would send 50,000 American kids though college. Which formula would make for a truly a better world?
I wish I didn’t feel this way, but I do.
I wished we had far less money in politics and far more politicians with integrity and backbone, folks who would put their country first and do the right thing on the economy. But I guess that’s just wishful thinking. Money speaks, which apparently is why every member of Congress is a millionaire. I’m sure the Founding Fathers would be awfully proud of this.
Even so, I couldn’t help but wish the presidential election was over. I’m already sick of both campaigns with their oily spin doctors, trivial obsessions and smarmy half-truths. What does it say about the state of our culture and government that more than 65 percent of the ads running at present are negative, telling us how their opponent will wreck America?
For once, I wish the candidates themselves would simply look us in the eye and tell us what they plan to do to revive America, to restore a sense of pride and hope in those of us working harder than ever and the 35 million out of work.
As it happens, I have a son out of work — well, to be fair, a recent college graduate who has been offered a couple of swell jobs as an unpaid “intern” for a couple of bigshot start-ups the next year or so. I understand this is the hottest trend in corporate hiring right now, internships that don’t pay anything but hold out the promise of someday hiring a bright young person willing to work for free. What a great scam: Get the overburdened parents of America to invest in your funky little startup for a year. You, too, can be the next Mark Zuckerberg!
Or maybe not. He just lost billions of net worth after his employees unloaded their Facebook stock in a biblical dash for the exits. Soon they’ll all be unpaid interns again.
For better or worse, our graduate is not alone. There are an estimated 2 million college graduates beating the pavement in search of a productive way into the work force this summer, waiting their turns for Main Street to turn around and start hiring. The kids of the brightest generation in American history are saddled with record college debt, prompting some to wonder if going to college is all it’s cracked up to be. A study released a few weeks ago showed that only three of 10 jobs in the future American economy will require a four-year college degree.
Truthfully, I wish I didn’t worry about my kids as much as I do. They’re smart, educated people with excellent hearts and a desire to make a real difference. I know they’ll be just fine. But still I worry. You see, I dearly miss them being 10 years old though I don’t wish they were. Does that make sense? Probably not. Have a kid and you’ll see what I mean.
Meantime, I wish I didn’t worry about other trivial stuff, but worrying is in my DNA.
Yes, I know. It’s thoroughly unproductive. Worrying won’t extend one’s life a single hour, according to the Gospel of Matthew and Dr. Oz.
The Heart Unfettered
But the good news is that I honestly don’t worry about living and dying anymore. I’ve lived a nice full life and am perfectly OK with the idea of passing away when my scheduled departure time arrives, probably because I was fortunate enough to have two marvelous parents who showed me how to do it with grace and dignity, and I simply refuse to believe this transit is the end of the line — only a brief walk on the beach, as it were.
From my vantage point pushing 60, it isn’t remotely wishful thinking to say that all nature constantly heralds the certainty of rebirth and renewal of life — the circularity of seasons and constancy of tides and precision of constellations all speak the pure language of divine clockwork and the soul’s immortality.
Sometimes on a far more Earthbound level, to be honest, I worry about the faint creaking and groaning my vintage Roadmaster makes when I crank her up and start down the road on a trip. Oh, how I love this ancient cruise ship of a car. Then I remember that I make pretty much the same sound when I climb out of bed in the morning and head downstairs to put on the coffee and let Old Rufus in from his overnight rounds. After we get rolling a bit, everything seems fine. No worries. Another day in Paradise.
As I stood on that beach last week, watching the sun rise and the stars fade and my own footprints in the sand wash away to sea, I sent a few final wishes to whomever was on duty that breaking day: to write another good book, take my bride to Venice, learn a little Italian, spend more time in my garden, eat fewer things that had a mother, and spend more time walking on the beach.
For what it’s worth, I walked on to breakfast feeling better than I’d felt about this world — and my tiny place in it — all summer. I was still alive and sweaty and had just seen my first shooting star in decades.
I just wished I could have talked about it all with Opti the Mystic again.
Award-winning author Jim Dodson, Sunday essayist with The Pilot and editor of PineStraw magazine, can be reached at jim@the pilot.com.
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